The horizontal red pattern represents potential breast cancer. Photos courtesy image of health
Imagine that there were a way to detect changes in breast tissue before a cancerous tumor actually formed. Proponents of breast thermography say they can do just that. During the 30-minute test, special infrared cameras take pictures that are said to detect functional changes in the breast (alterations in one's thermal "fingerprint") roughly eight years before a structural change could be detected by mammography or breast MRI, thus catching cancer before it even forms, says Marilyn MacClellan with Image of Health in Chester, a thermography clinic. (The images are read and interpreted by Dr. Jeanne Stryker, a board-certified radiologist in California.) By observing the thermal changes so early, MacClellan says, patients can implement simple lifestyle changes — diet adjustments, lymphatic massage — to reverse or stop the cell mutation. If, however, the thermal-pattern change is significant, mammography is recommended. "It's important not to knock mammograms, because mammograms have their place," says Paige Held Beale, who owns Therapeutic Massage and Wellness, which offers thermography every month via MacClellan's mobile unit.
Beale and MacClellan both acknowledge that breast thermography, which was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1983 for breast-cancer screening, isn't widely accepted by practitioners of traditional medicine. In fact, physicians such as Dr. Melanie Fidler, chief of breast imaging for Radiology Associates of Richmond at Henrico Doctors' Hospital, don't recommend it at all. "We have a superior test that uses the same concept that breast cancers have more blood flow: MRI," Fidler says. "The added advantage is that MRI gives detailed anatomic — how it looks — as well physiologic — how it behaves — information. It is currently the most sensitive, most likely to find a cancer, test for breast cancer."
Still, there are various reasons women turn to breast thermography to screen for early risk factors, chief among them being the test's lack of radiation and compression, both of which are common reasons women avoid mammography. "This is our target group — the women who do nothing," MacClellan says. "We don't advocate doing nothing."