/ by Xiaoqin Jennifer Wang, MD, and Wendi Owen, MD
You might have heard that thermograms are a painless and non-invasive procedure that can help catch breast cancer but does not use radiation. Certain practitioners even claim that thermograms are able to detect breast cancer before traditional mammograms can.
However, mammograms – not thermograms – are still the best way to check for signs of breast cancer.
Here's what you should know about thermography and why you shouldn't switch your routine mammogram for a thermogram instead.
What is thermography?
Breast thermography is an infrared imaging test that shows patterns of heat and blood flow at or near the skin surface. The rationale for using thermography to detect breast cancer is that cancer tissues have faster metabolism and increased blood flow, so they produce higher temperatures than normal breast tissue.
Thermography, unfortunately, often produces misleading results. It may suggest that cancer exists when it does not, or it may miss cancer that actually exists. This misleading information could result in a delayed diagnosis of breast cancer or unnecessary medical follow-up. No valid evidence has been found that supports the use of thermography as a standalone test for breast cancer screening or diagnosis.
Mammogram is still the best screening tool for breast cancer
A mammogram is a low-dose X-ray picture of the breast that is commonly used in-clinic for breast cancer screening and diagnosis. While debates are ongoing about when and how often to use it, most well-respected healthcare organizations agree that mammography is the safest and most effective screening tool to detect breast cancer. A mammogram is the only test that has been proven to increase the chances of breast cancer survival.
Thermography isn't an alternative to a mammogram
Thermography has been cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) but only for use with another screening or diagnostic test, like mammography. Because some facilities provide information that can mislead patients into believing that thermography is an alternative or better option than mammography, the FDA has recently issued a warning that thermography should not be used as a standalone tool for breast cancer detection.
Thermography is not endorsed by the American Cancer Society or the American College of Radiology. At UK HealthCare, we recommend that patients have regular mammograms according to screening guidelines or as recommended by their healthcare provider.
How Markey Cancer Center can help
We are board certified radiologists with fellowship training in breast imaging, and we see patients at the UK Markey Cancer Center Comprehensive Breast Care Center. Our primary clinical focus is breast imaging and treatment, and we routinely answer questions that patients and healthcare providers may have regarding breast imaging.