Turning Up the Heat on Thermography

Turning Up The Heat On ThermographyThermography is an imaging test that measures and depicts temperature differences in the body. When used in the breast, it is designed to show which areas of the breast are warmer than others. In theory, this has the potential to find breast cancer, since tumors often have more blood flow than normal tissues and therefore, would be warmer on a thermogram.

The first thermogram was performed in 1956, and the test was ultimately approved by the FDA in 1982 as an adjunct to mammography. It was never intended to be used in place of mammography.

Multiple research studies have been performed in the nearly 50 years since it was approved and none has shown thermography to be an acceptable form of breast cancer screening. While some cancers can be detected, these are the larger cancers that are closest to the skin. The goal of breast cancer screening is to find small cancers that are otherwise undetectable. Mammography is the only test that has been shown to lower the death rate from breast cancer. In addition to being unable to detect most breast cancers (false negative), thermograms result in very many “false positive” results where normal tissue is called suspicious.

The Society of Breast Imaging, part of the American College of Radiology, has issued a position statement stating that “The Society of Breast Imaging does not currently support the use of thermography/infrared imaging of the breast as either a screening tool in the detection of breast cancer or as an adjunctive diagnostic tool…” Click here for the full ACR/SBI statement.

Although the FDA has not yet withdrawn its approval for thermography is has, over the years, issued progressively stronger warnings about false and misleading claims about the value of this test. The latest statement says “…thermography has not been shown to be effective as a standalone test for either breast cancer screening or diagnosis in detecting early stage breast cancer…” Click here for the full FDA statement. Additional warnings to providers of thermography have also been issued.

To learn more about breast cancer screening visit Carolina Breast Imaging Specialists.

Author:  Bruce F. Schroeder, M.D.