Breast thermography is a diagnostic procedure that images the breasts to aid in the early detection of breast cancer. It is based on the principle that chemical and blood vessel activity in both pre-cancerous tissue and the area surrounding developing breast cancer is almost always higher than in the normal breast. Since pre-cancerous and cancerous masses are highly metabolic tissues, they need an abundant supply of nutrients to maintain their growth and this can increase the surface temperatures of the breast.
State-of-the-art breast thermography uses ultra-sensitive infrared cameras and sophisticated computers to detect, analyze, and produce high-resolution diagnostic images of these temperature and vascular changes. The procedure is both comfortable and safe using no radiation or compression. By carefully examining changes in the temperature and blood vessels of the breasts, signs of possible cancer or pre-cancerous cell growth may be detected up to 8 years prior to being discovered using any other procedure. This provides for the earliest detection of cancer possible. Because of breast thermography’s extreme sensitivity, these temperature variations and vascular changes may be among the earliest signs of breast cancer and/or a pre-cancerous state of the breast.
Breast thermography has an average sensitivity and specificity of 90%. When used as part of a multimodal approach (clinical examination + mammography + thermography) 95% of early-stage cancers can be detected. However, thermography does not have the ability to pinpoint the location of a tumor. Consequently, breast thermography’s role is in addition to an ultrasound and physical examination, not in lieu of.
Mammography vs. Thermography
- Uses x-rays to produce an image of the breast. Areas with abnormalities need to be dense enough to be see. However, if too dense, interpretation
may be difficult.
- Focuses on structural imaging and has the ability to locate an area of suspicious tissue.
- Early detection method, when breast tissue abnormality becomes evident.
- Cannot diagnose cancer. Can detect some tumors in the pre-invasive stage.
- For most women with private insurance, annual mammography screenings are covered without co-payments or deductibles, but it’s important to contact the mammogram facility and your insurance carrier to confirm insurance coverage. Also, Medicare pays for annual screening for all female beneficiaries who are age 40 or older.
- Uses infrared imaging technology to detect heat and vascular activity. Heat is compiled into a computerized image for analysis.
- Focuses on physiologic changes, changes in temperatures and vascular activity that could indicate abnormal activity in an area of the breast.
- Early detection method, when abnormal vascular patterns and temperature changes are detected, generally much earlier than tissue abnormality is visible.
- Cannot diagnose cancer. May provide the first signal that changes are occurring in the breast tissue.
- Generally not covered by health insurance plans. Some plans may offer some out-ofnetwork coverage, but you should check with your plan administrator first. Thermography screenings are eligible expenses for health care flexible spending accounts and Health Savings Accounts. The cost of breast thermography screening averages $100-$185.
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