October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
What better time to consider a Breast Thermogram – The Painless “Gram”! –
as an alternative to a routine mammogram?
“Breast cancer is the second most common kind of cancer in women. About 1 in 8 women born today in the United States will get breast cancer at some point.
“The good news is that many women can survive breast cancer if it’s found and treated early.” HealthFinder.gov
This month, we are reminded to be aware of our risks and take charge of our own personal health.
We live in a world where almost every vital thing is contaminated in some way or another with cancer-causing agents. Our air, water and food supplies have been compromised (to put it kindly). It’s reckless to ignore ways that can help prevent disease. Such as having our breasts periodically “grammed”.
If you’re like me, you would rather subject yourself to the rack rather than have your breasts squeezed to a 1/2-inch flatness between two cold, hard surfaces. As if that’s not bad enough, this lovely ritual is always followed by a (sometimes unsympathetic) technician zapping you with radiation.
If you’re one of the many women who has fibrous cysts, mammograms are truly torture!
For years and years, I’ve complained and exclaimed, “There has to be a kinder technology for women!!”
Well, guess what! There is!
It is painless and can flag a potential problem one to three years earlier than a mammogram*!
Have you ever heard of thermography?
Maybe you’ve read my post, I Had a Breast Thermogram. You might have set the thought aside or skipped it entirely.
Which is why I’m putting it back on the table today!
I had a breast thermogram for the first time last spring. There was no pain and no squishing-into-a-pancake involved. It was a breeze!
But that doesn’t matter unless it does what it’s supposed to do. So let’s take a look at thermography and how it works.
How Does a Breast Thermogram work and why is it valuable?
Breast thermography (aka medical Infrared Imaging or digital infrared imaging) uses special infrared cameras combined with computers to detect, analyze and produce images of temperature variations in and around the breasts**.
Why are temperature variations important?
1. Chemical processes are constantly going on in our bodies. They control growth, energy production, waste elimination, and a myriad of other functions. This activity tends to be much higher in pre-cancerous tissue than they are in normal tissue.
2. When cancer is developing, it is ravenous for nutrients. It uses the body’s natural functions to receive those nutrients by increasing blood circulation around pre-cancerous cells through existing blood vessels. And by creating new blood vessels.
And here’s where it all ties together…
3. The principal behind thermography is this. Increased blood flow and heightened metabolic activity result in higher surface temperatures in the affected area. Which is exactly the conditions that thermography captures.
Temperature variation is thought to be one of the earliest signs of breast pre-cancer/cancer. Thermal imaging is 90% sensitive to pre-cancer and cancer signals. This is higher than other, traditional methods. It means that, on average, fewer cancers go undetected when thermal imaging is used to uncover them.*
So, did your brain go all fuzzy reading the last few paragraphs? Sorry about that. I guess the important part is that it works.
Oh, yeah! And it doesn’t hurt!
It took me years to learn about the existence of painless breast imaging. Thankfully, I have a friend who has been choosing thermograms over mammograms for years now. She and I had a couple of conversations about it. I was ready to take action.
Let’s talk about my own experience with a breast thermogram.
What happened on the day of the test?
First of all, living with a chronic disease (crohn’s) has taught me to always schedule any medical test or procedure as early in the day as possible. That way, it’s over and done. And I can get back to things I consider important and enjoyable. Like eating.
On the day of imaging, I was instructed on what to avoid that could cause a false “hot” reading. It was all easy things. Among them were:
• Drink no caffeine.
• Apply no deodorant or antiperspirant.
• Wear no body lotion or other substances on the chest or underarms.
• And no strenuous or unusual exercise 4 hours before testing.
When I entered the examination room, the technician, a woman, gave me a newbie orientation and education on thermography in general and breast thermograms specifically. She also let me know how their office would review and manage the results of my test.
Now that I was chock-full of new found knowledge, it was time to prep for the procedure by lowering my topical body temperature. This was going to allow any “hot spots” to show up more decisively.
I was instructed to undress from the waist up and stand in the same, low-termperature room for 15 minutes, my arms held up over my head or down away from my body.
As it turns out, it’s very tiring to hold your arms straight up over your head for several minutes at a time, so I switched back and forth. Evenutally, the technician came in to check on me and suggested that I put my hands against the wall (facing something interesting to read) and gently lean against the wall (like doing a push-away but not actually pushing) until the full 15 minutes were up.
Ms. Technician promptly returned to her equipment (out of my eyesight) and took a series of thermal photos of my chest facing six different, specific points in the room. It was similar to having regular photos taken. Only cold. And partially unclothed. But, hey! I didn’t have to smile. But still an easy thing to do, considering the alternative.
BTW, remember your last mammogram? It was cold and partially unclothed, there was nothing the smile about. And had the added insult of being painful. Just sayin’.
THEN I was directed to don some lovely blue nitrile gloves and submerge my hands into a bowl of cold water, holding onto a big cube of frozen something for 60 seconds. This was to reduce my body temperature a little more so they could read temperature changes in different spots.
Another series of photos were taken facing the same six points and I was done!
Quick! No pain! No squishing!
Because I was curious, the tech walked me through my photos, in color showing the warm and cool spots, and also in grayscale showing blood vessels.
What did they look like? Well, you know those photos showing thermal images of houses losing heat out of their roofs? And tents with people inside? This works on the same principle, only it’s looking inside your body for things that should not be giving off exaggerated heat patterns.
When you look at the thermal images, you see temperature grading in color. Blue is cool. Red is hot. This photo is how you want your photos to look! (Mine didn’t)
They also produce grayscale images of the blood vessels. These images show whether tell-tale loops of blood vessels have formed. They can also show mottling which is caused by estrogen imbalances. A known contributor to breast cancer.
In this way, doctors and technicians see if you have a normal reading. Or if there’s a possibility of concern.
If there are potential problem spots, a thermogram will often identify them a full year to three years EARLIER than a mammogram.
Which gives you the opportunity to take steps to treat the cause before the issue has grown into something more serious like cancer.
It’s a quick and easy procedure to endure. Completely hands off and pain free!
The doctor in the office I went to reads the images himself. I don’t know if this is the norm, or not. It is a painstaking process and can take up to 2 weeks to get the results (I got the feeling that if they find something alarming, those readings are pushed to the head of the line for faster action.) If a followup visit is required – perhaps a traditional doctor visit, mammogram or biopsy – you’ll be advised on what to do next.
I chose to follow through with the doctor who read my images. This particular doctor is an MD (in the Western sense) who also combines traditional, whole-body methods of treating health challenges.
This may or may not be typical. Talking with my friend about her experience was extremely helpful and encouraging. I think it’s important to overcome my (intense) sense of privacy to share my own experience with you. Hopefully, it offers enough information to allow you to decide if you want to look further into having a breast thermogram yourself.
Whatever you decide, do not put off taking care of yourself. Remember. 1 out of every 8 of the women you know, including you, are statistically at risk for breast cancer.
There are a few more things you need to know:
- Most internists (your primary care physician) do not know much about thermography, if they’ve heard of it at all. Which is not terrible since the images are interpreted by a specialist in the same way xrays, CAT scans, etc are interpreted by specialists and then a report of their findings is sent to your doctor. When I asked my primary doctor about having a breast thermogram, he was aware of thermography but not well versed in its intricacies. However, he was happy enough with my decision as long as he didn’t have to interpret the results himself.
- The results are sent to your doctor of choice with images and the experts’ interpretation of the what they found… Just like a mammogram!
- Some insurance companies label this procedure as “experimental” even though it has been tested over years and found to be effective. Your insurance might not cover the imaging. For me, it cost a little over $200 at the office I visited. Not a small amount, but my husband and I felt it was worth working the expense into the budget.
- According to the technician, many insurance companies do cover followup procedures and treatments if indicated. Check directly with your insurance company to find out how your plan works.
- Medical thermography is not just for breasts. Check your region for a thermography center and give them a call if you’re interested in checking it all out.
- There is much more to learn about these procedures. My few paragraphs here can’t possibly explain everything you might want to know.
- NONE of these procedures (mammogram, thermography, ultrasound) can diagnose cancer. They are meant only to show areas of concern so you can take appropriate action.
- Always consult with your doctor about any test you take to protect yourself from late diagnosis of health problems!
My results came back with an area of concern that the doctor determined is caused by a body-wide problem that’s putting stress on my body. Since then, I have been following a protocol for that problem AND a simultaneous breast health protocol. Just in case, I was also prescribed an anti-cancer diet that starves cancer cells if they’re present.
I haven’t yet talked about any of the results with you but I plan on sharing what the doctor finds as time goes by. Yesterday, I had a quick, 5 minute exam to see if one of the contributing health issues was responding to treatment. The doctor was ecstatic at the results! Next is a less involved, followup breast thermogram to see if the warm spots are calming down. That would be nice 🙂
Don’t worry! Things are great. I have NOT been diagnosed with cancer, and have even enjoyed a happy side benefit from the diet. I’ve lost weight in a spectacularly healthy way! WooHoo!!!
Bottomline, I am very happy with the breast thermogram route. A mammogram might have shown a problem area this soon. But, statistically, not. Either way, a mammogram would have been most uncomfortable.
Here are a few research resources:
* Studies show an increase in survival rate when breast thermography and mammography are used together.
** (Thermography is pretty versatile and can be used to determine possible issues in other regions of the body, as well. However, we’re talking breasts here…)
Questions? Share below and I’ll to share what I’ve got!
Pink Ribbon Image (the top one with my added text) courtesy of scottchan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Red Dinner Plate Image courtesy of digitalart at FreeDigitalPhotos.net