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Worried About Mammograms? Consider Breast Thermography
March 4, 2014
By Dr. Maiko Ochi, N.D., L. Ac.
Last week, results from a 25-year Canadian study suggested that while mammograms may increase detection of breast cancers, they do not reduce mortality rates. Screening mammograms are a highly contentious issue with passionate defenders on both sides, and this study has sparked debate once again. Even medical agencies can’t come to an agreement. In 2009, in a controversial move, the United States Preventive Services Task Force updated its mammogram recommendations, suggesting that women begin getting them every 2 years beginning at age 50. Meanwhile, both the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Cancer Society have continued to recommend women start getting annual mammograms at age 40. This leaves women (and their doctors!) without a clear answer as to how often they should get mammograms, and whether they should even get them.
What are the drawbacks to mammograms? First of all, mammograms involve being exposed to ionizing radiation, which in itself is a risk factor for breast cancer. One mammogram can expose you to the equivalent of the amount of radiation in 1000 chest x-rays. Now consider getting yearly mammograms once you turn 40 years old … that’s a lot of radiation exposure. Second of all, mammograms have a high rate of false positives, meaning that women will be exposed to unnecessary medical procedures such as more mammograms and biopsies, not to mention stress and anxiety.
So what options do women have if they’re concerned about mammograms? Breast ultrasounds and MRIs are possible alternatives. However, thermography is another viable option to be used not to replace mammograms, but as an adjunct. So what exactly is thermography? It’s a form of imaging that measures the amount of heat in tissues to indicate inflammation or increased blood flow, which can suggest the presence of a developing tumor. In 1982, the FDA certified breast thermography as an adjunct diagnostic breast cancer screening procedure. Since then, more than 800 peer-reviewed studies in the medical literature have established thermography as a safe and effective means to examine the human body. Breast thermography has an average sensitivity and specificity of 90%. Extensive clinical trials have shown that breast thermography can significantly increase long-term survival rates by as much as 61%, and when used with mammograms and clinical exams, 95% of early-stage cancers will be detected.
One advantage of this type of imaging is that it doesn’t involve any radiation, so it can help to reduce radiation exposure from yearly mammograms. Another important advantage that thermography has over mammograms is that while the latter can only detect masses once they have developed, the former can detect abnormal changes years before such an event. One important naturopathic principle is prevention, and thermography is right in line with this. By early detection of abnormalities, women are able to proactively manage their health by making dietary and lifestyle changes years before disease may manifest. Treating disease once it has occurred is not a sustainable model for healthcare, and I believe that in the future, there will be much more emphasis placed on preventive medicine, and as a result, on thermography.
We’re pleased to be able to offer breast thermography at SageMED every Thursday in conjunction with Advanced Healthcare Alliance. In addition to the thermogram itself, you will get a complete analysis by a physician trained to read thermograms, as well as treatment suggestions. Full body scans to look for inflammation can also be done in men, women, and kids. This is a great non-invasive technology to take advantage of!