Since the discovery of the infrared radiation in the early 19th century, there have been many progressively successful attempts to put this knowledge to use. Modern thermal imaging cameras are able to detect and capture infrared radiation (what we see as heat), producing high-quality images (thermograms). Besides its applications in military and surveillance, thermography is also widely used in healthcare.
How does thermography work?
The idea behind thermography is heat detection. Thermal imaging devices can create a temperature map of an object, making the warmest and the coolest areas contrast with each other. When it comes to human bodies, some physiological changes, such as inflammation or tumors, are often characterized by the increased blood flow to the area or development of new vessels. Blood is warm, and if it’s concentrated in one spot, a thermogram will pick it up.
Because our bodies are more or less symmetrical, thermography can be highly effective in detecting abnormalities in paired body parts like limbs or breasts. A problem is more evident when you can visually compare your right hand to your left hand, for example. Moreover, having a series of images dating several years back also offers some benchmarks for comparison.
What is thermography used for in healthcare?
- Breast thermography, when used in conjunction with mammography, can increase breast cancer detection rates by as much as 10%
- Breast thermography can also be used to rule out false positives when a mammogram doesn’t provide clear enough data.
- The American Cancer Society recommends women to undergo regular mammograms starting at the age of 40. Until then, thermography can be used as a preventive measure, combined with regular breast exams.
- Full-body thermography scans can be used to keep track of your overall health or monitor progress as you adopt a healthier lifestyle.
- Thermography is also great for monitoring any chronic conditions to make sure they are not taking a turn for the worst.
- Besides breast cancer detection, thermography can help assess breast cancer risk, which means you can make appropriate lifestyle changes to reduce it.
- Thermography can be used to detect hormonal imbalances and lymphatic congestion.
Thermography vs. Mammography
There has been an ongoing debate about which method is better for breast cancer detection: thermography or mammography. Thermography proponents point out obvious downsides of mammography:
- it exposes you to radiation that may actually contribute to cancer
- it squeezes breast tissue which may lead to spread of cancer cells
- it is not effective for women with dense breasts and breast implants
- it doesn’t cover the entire breast, often leaving out the upper quadrant
- it detects cancer after the mass has already formed
The Swiss Medical Board conducted an extensive review of the use of mammography as a primary method for breast cancer prevention back in 2013. In their report published last year the board recommend against systematic mammograms, which caused a big uproar in Europe and echoed all over the world. Despite their findings that the harms of mammography might outweigh its benefits, mammograms remain a preferred and widely accepted practice, and there is a reason—they save lives.
While thermography is more superior than mammography in terms of the above-mentioned shortcomings, there is not enough research to prove its effectiveness in breast cancer detection and the FDA is advising against using it as a substitute. However, thermography is a very quick, low-risk and non-invasive procedure that is not known to cause any harm, so using it in conjunction with mammograms won’t hurt you and might be a good backup strategy.
Thermography and Lifestyle
Although thermography might not be a substitute for mammography when it comes to breast cancer detection, it does have many other areas where it can be useful and effective. For example, thermography can help pinpoint the source of your chronic pains. What you think is a joint pain could be a problem with a tense muscle—something an x-ray won’t show but a thermogram will.
Thermography can also be used in conjunction with proper nutrition and acupuncture to help you monitor your body’s response to various treatments or lifestyle changes. Besides just feeling that a particular treatment works, you will be able to see it in your thermograms that will gradually reflect the physiological changes. Thermography is a safe procedure for men and women of all ages and can give you that peace of mind that you are doing your best to take care of your health.
If you are looking to try thermography and curious what your scan will reveal, you can do this at Women in Wellness. We have a visiting thermography technician who comes in regularly to offer scans to our Towson acupuncture and nutrition clients, as well as everyone else who just wants to come in for thermography. Click here to schedule an appointment or feel free to ask us any questions!