Bal Gill, 41, paid a visit to Edinburgh’s Camera Obscura and World of Illusions, a tourist attraction with an exhibit that shows visitors what their bodies, and their environment, looks like through thermal image cameras. As Gill was looking over her photos and videos from her visit to the attraction back in May, she noticed something that caught her eye: a hot patch on one of her breasts.
She made an appointment with her regular physician, and sure enough, she learned she had breast cancer. She has since had two surgeries to treat the cancer, and she has a third one scheduled to keep the cancer from returning.
Breast Cancer And Thermal Imaging
Caroline Rubin, vice president for clinical radiology at The Royal College of Radiologists, explained how a thermal-imaging camera could, theoretically at least, be used to detect breast cancer.
“The principle behind using thermography is that infrared heat cameras can be used to map patterns of heat and blood flow close to the surface of the body,” she said.
Because tumors have a good blood supply, they can generate heat that could show up on a thermal camera.
However, Rubin advises that tourist attraction thermal image cameras and consumer-grade cameras are not a substitute for the more traditional methods of detecting breast cancer, the most common and reliable of which is mammograms.
Dr. Tracey Gillies, medical director at NHS Lothian, in Scotland, said that mammograms are effective partly because they use X-rays that are interpreted by professional clinicians. What’s more, tumors can vary wildly in shape and position and may not always show up in thermal imaging.
“In the past thermal imagining cameras have been experimented with to detect cancer however this has never been a proven screening tool,” Gillies said.
Camera Obscura Thanked
As for Gill, she wrote a letter to the tourist attraction, saying that the camera exhibit, though not intended as such, saved her life.
“I just wanted to say thank you: without that camera, I would never have known. I know it’s not the intention of the camera but for me, it really was a life-changing visit,” she wrote.
In a public statement, Andrew Johnson, general manager of the attraction, said that it was “amazing” that the thermal imaging exhibit played a role in saving Ms. Gill’s life, and wrote that he hopes to meet her and her family in the future.