Oct 2, 2012 / 5:00 am
The month of October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Breast Cancer is the most common cancer affecting women in Canada. In fact, it represents about 26% of new cancers diagnosed for women and causes 14% of cancer-related deaths in women. This means about 22,700 women will be diagnosed in 2012 and about 5100 women will pass away due to breast cancer. Since the 1980’s breast cancer rates have increased, in part due to the increased screening and awareness. Fortunately, death rates from breast cancer have been declining over the same 30 year period. While advances in breast cancer treatment have been made the most important aspect of treatment is early detection. In this week’s article we will examine thermography, an imaging technique designed to identify inflammatory and possibly pre-cancerous tissue changes in the breast.
What is Thermography?
Thermography is an imaging technique that uses infrared cameras to identify heat patterns on the surface of the body. All cells of the body give off a heat. Inflamed cells, pre-cancerous, and cancerous cells give off more heat and typically display this heat in an abnormal pattern. The pattern identified by the thermograph can indicate the health of the cells and whether or not future pathology may arise.
How Does Thermography Assess Breast Health?
Breast thermography is designed to identify the distribution of heat on the skin of the breast. This heat pattern reflects of the formation of blood vessels in the skin and breast tissue. Pre-cancerous and cancerous cells have unique blood vessel patterns and heat distribution patterns that thermography can identify.
Typically, years or even decades prior to cancer cell formation there will be changes in blood flow and blood vessel formation in the breast tissue. If this is identified before the cells become cancerous or even pre-cancerous dietary, lifestyle, and other changes can be made to reduce the risk of breast cancer.
What is the Evidence Supporting Thermography?
Thermography has been FDA approved as an adjunctive breast cancer screening tool since 1982. This means that it is approved to identify warning signs of an increased risk for cancer. Thermography is not intended to be a replacement for mammography but instead provides information that mammography is not designed to pick up.
Thermography has been researched for over 30 years and there are over 800 peer reviewed studies involving more than 300 000 women. Breast thermography has an average sensitivity and specificity rating of 90%. In fact, an abnormal breast thermography is more than 10 times more significant as an indicator for future breast cancer than family history of an immediate family member. When thermography is used in conjunction with clinical examination and mammography 95% of early stage cancers are detected.
Are There Side Effects?
Thermography has no known side effects. It does not utilize radiation or involve any pressure on the breast tissue.
What is the Procedure?
Thermography is a relatively simple and non-invasive screening tool that takes less than one hour to complete. The first 20 minutes of the appointment is designed for the body to acclimatize to the room which is set at 20 degrees celcius. This prevents false positive patterns being identified. During the procedure the patient stands in front of the infrared camera, which scans the body and sends the images to the computer. At no time is there pressure, squeezing, or force applied to the breasts like in mammography. After the images are taken they are analyzed by the technician and the physician and a report is generated.
A treatment plan can be designed based on the results of the thermography if treatment is advisable.
For more information on breast health and thermography contact Dr. Barlow at the Kelowna Wellness Clinic at 250-448-5610 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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