Breast Cancer: Mammograms Beat Thermography, Study Says

Melissa Stusinski - Author

Jun. 15 2013, Updated 11:19 p.m. ET

Breast cancer awareness is huge, and everyone recognizes that a pink ribbon is the symbol for this disease, which affects millions of women, and some men too. Mammograms have long been the best way to detect lumps and cancer for women, although some doctors recommend thermography as a substitution.

New research suggests, however, that thermography actually misses about 50 percent of cancers, and also delivers too many false positives to be accurate, according to Dr. C.M. Guilfoyle, a researcher at Bryn Mawr Hospital in Pennsylvania.

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Thermography is a radiation-free screening method, which uses computer software to measure and compare thermal abnormalities in breasts. I essentially creates a breast “map” to search for signs of developing cancer. The theory for this method of detection is that increased temperature is found in areas with increased blood flow, which could indicate a tumor.

A mammogram, on the other hand, provides an x-ray of the patient’s breast, which can be used detect lumps, or tumors. Researchers evaluated the technique for breast cancer screening using 180 women, who underwent biopsies after they had suspicious findings on other imaging exams. Guilfoyle stated that:

“I think we are still trying to determine the role of thermography as a breast cancer screening tool.”

The technology, marketed as the No Touch Breast Scan, was not able to tell the difference between malignant and benign lesions in most cases. The technology is still evolving, however, and it does have room to improve, given Guilfoyle’s study.

Dr. Kimberly Lovett, an attending physician at Southern California Permanente, and an investigator at the University of California-San Diego Center for Patient Safety, writes about the dangers of online ads by thermography companies, telling people that it is a good substitute, and can be the sole method for detecting breast cancer. Lovett says that:

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“I would tell women that thermography continues to be studied, and the technology will hopefully improve over time. However, at this time, thermography should absolutely not be used as an alternative to screening mammogram or as an alternative to breast biopsy in the presence of a positive mammogram.”

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Until a thermography method is developed that yields better results, Guilfoyle recommends sticking with a yearly mammogram for breast cancer detection.

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