Breast thermography relies on the principle that every woman has a unique thermal pattern to their breasts that should not change over time. It offers a way to monitor breast health through the years along with conventional testing such as mammogram, ultrasound or MRI. It is not meant to replace these tests, but rather be an additional tool to evaluate breast health.
Breast thermography detects physiological changes (relating to vascular flow and inflammation in benign and pathological processes) within the internal environment of the breast. These changes are then reflected in the temperature of the skin which the thermographic camera measures. Thermography is not able to detect structural or density changes the way ultrasound and mammograms can.
Breast thermography is painless and does not utilize compression or radiation. At our clinic two breast scans are done within 3 months of each other. A woman’s first breast scan is not always conclusive as there are no previous images for comparison. The 2nd scan provides the basis for comparison and provides a stable thermal pattern or baseline if unchanged. Annual scans are usually recommended thereafter and are always compared back to the first two. In addition, a very thorough history is taken and a manual breast exam is performed.
If changes are identified on annual follow ups, further investigation is warranted. These changes should be clinically correlated through conventional means such as ultrasound, mammography or MRI because thermography is not independently diagnostic of pathology. Breast thermography will show positive physiological findings in 83% of malignancies, leaving 17% of cancers that present as thermographically silent. Thus in thermography, as in other types of imaging studies like mammogram or ultrasound, there exists false negatives as well as false positives.
Breast thermography is recommend for women of any age, but it can be specifically beneficial for women who are between the ages of 30 to 50 with dense breasts or implants; for women who want to monitor breast health in the interval of time between mammograms and for women who want to evaluate the effectiveness of a particular treatment (along with conventional monitoring).
Thermography is physiologic test that allows the examiner to detect and quantify changes in skin surface temperature. These changes may be normal or represent disease or abnormality. A specialized camera converts the infrared radiation emitted from the skin surface into electrical impulses that are seen as a spectrum of colour on a monitor. The applications for thermography in the human body are several. It can be used to evaluate the healing process in an area of injury. It can be used to identify the potential nature of pain (neurological vs vascular). In its most common application it is used as an adjunctive tool to evaluate breast health.