What is Medical Infrared Thermography?

Thermography is an example of infrared imaging science.  According to the electromagnetic spectrum, thermal imaging cameras detect radiation in the infrared range and subsequently produce images of this radiation.  These images are called thermograms.  Thermographic imaging is used in a wide range of applications including governmental, public service, maintenance, building and construction, and medical.

What is the Methodology Behind Medical InfraredThermography?

Thermographic technology is based on the fundamental principle that elevated temperatures in the body can be caused by increased blood vessel and chemical activity.  These forms of increased internal activity are present in tissues with precancerous cells and developing cancer.  Before a precancerous or malignant tumor can develop, it requires an abundant supply of nutrients that can only come from elevated blood flow causing an increase in temperature.  Affected tissues are metabolically more active requiring a greater supply of nutrients for continued rapid growth. Chemical messengers are sent to the body to keep existing blood cells open, to recruit dormant vessels and to develop new vessels (the latter of which is referred to as the process of angiogenesis).

Medical Infrared Thermography is capable of detecting the early signs of suspicious blood vessel formation (angiogenesis), thereby opening the door to a more preventative rather than curative approach to the disease.

Thermographic Imaging and Risk Assessment

Unlike other medical procedures in breast pathology, thermographic imaging is conducted without the use of painful breast compression, radiation and invasiveness.  The tool is ideal for mass screening and risk assessment not only in older women over 40, but also in younger women who have dense breast tissue, who live with a fibrocystic condition or who have breast implants. A high-risk thermographic breast assessment shows irregular patterns of heat.  In this case, the clinician is alerted to a possible problem in the physiology of the breast (i.e. infection, inflammation, trauma, hormonal imbalance or malignancy). Today, denying the value of thermal imaging as an adjunctive diagnostic procedure to detect the early signs of breast cancer is nothing less than a grave error.

Breast Thermography and its Capabilities

Given the sensitivity of breast thermography, we are able to screen women who are at high risk of developing breast cancer and intervene early with more vigorous structural testing and preventative therapeutic treatments. The temperature variations and vascular changes detected by thermographic imaging may be among the earliest signs of breast cancer or a pre-cancerous state of the breast.

Researched for over 30 years, breast thermography studies have examined some 250,000 women participants and have followed patients for up to 12 years.  Study results conclude:

  • Breast thermography has an average sensitivity and specificity of 90%
  • The single most important marker that indicates a high risk of developing breast cancer is an abnormal infrared image
  • The risk of developing breast cancer is 22 times higher in women who have persistent abnormal thermograms
  • When a thermography scan is added to women’s regular breast health checkups, a 61% increased survival rate is realized
  • When used as an adjunctive procedure (clinical examination + mammography + thermography) 95% of early stage cancers are detected

Uses of Breast Thermography

Breast thermography plays an important role as an early cancer risk indicator and as a treatment monitor.  After an initial baseline evaluation, clinicians should be prompted to take the following measures: evaluate the patient’s diet, her exposure to environmental pollution and toxins, and overall lifestyle; do blood work and when necessary, conduct ultrasound and mammography examinations.  If results align across all procedures, it is recommended that thermograms be taken every 9 to 12 months to monitor changes.

Technological Implications

Thermography empowers us to be proactive with our health.  Passive and reactive attitudes are not good enough anymore.  Today’s statistics state that 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. As clinicians and as patients, we must take every possible measure to effectively evaluate risk and to use tools that play a role in earlier detection methods for breast cancer in order to improve our chance for survival.  Thermography is part of this initiative.  In conjunction with self-breast examinations, clinical examinations, and mammography, breast thermography can help us reach an early detection rate of up to 95%.

For additional information about breast thermography please see more articles on this web site.

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