Thermography: Alternative to Mammography?

Did your doctor recommend thermography to screen for breast cancer? If so, there are several things you should know.

How it works. Thermography works entirely differently from mammography. While a mammogram is a specialized x-ray that uses radiation to identify breast lesions, digital infrared thermal imaging, or DITI, uses an infrared camera to find and record temperature changes on the surface of the skin. The temperature rises because of increased blood flow to the tumor. Thus, a high skin temperature may suggest the presence of an underlying lesion.

Some advantages. The nice thing about thermography is that there is no ionizing radiation and no breast compression, hence less discomfort compared to mammography.

Limited evidence. There is no scientific evidence demonstrating that thermography is effective on its own for breast cancer screening.[1] There is only limited evidence that thermography is effective to confirm suspicious findings on a mammogram.[1] It has a high rate of false positives, in which what looks like a cancer really isn’t; and false negatives, in which the scan misses the lesion.

That’s why thermography is only approved for use with a primary approved screening or diagnostic test like a mammogram. Even then, the evidence is limited as to whether the two together are any better than a mammogram alone. [2] In fact, mammograms are still the most effective, accurate screening method for breast cancer in its early, most treatable stages.[3]

Bottom line. If you decide to have thermography, be sure to consider also getting a mammogram.

 

Senographe Pristina and Invenia ABUS are prescription medical devices limited to sale, distribution, or use, to or on the order of a physician. Medical device imaging is not without risk. Please discuss the risks and benefits associated with mammography with your healthcare professional.

 

[1] Brkljacić B1, Miletić D, Sardanelli F.Thermography is not a feasible method for breast cancer screening.Coll Antropol. 2013 Jun;37(2):589-93.

[2] Fitzgerald A1, Berentson-Shaw J. N Z Med J. Thermography as a screening and diagnostic tool: a systematic review.

2012 Mar 9;125(1351):80-91.

[3] Food and Drug Administration. Breast Cancer Screening: Thermogram No Substitute for Mammogram. October 27, 2017. Available at: https://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm257499.htm

3 Comments:

  • Thermography has only been cleared by the FDA as an “adjunctive” tool—meaning for use alongside a primary test like mammography. Patients who undergo a thermography test alone should not be reassured of the findings because the device was not cleared to be used other than with another testing method like mammography. ( You can learn more about mammography—including how it works and how to find a certified facility—on the FDA’s website. )

    Reply /
  • It’s good to know that thermography has less discomfort than mammography because that makes people more likely to get one. That means they’ll find any problems sooner. Is thermography more or less expensive than a mammogram?

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  • Thermography is a unique technology for women who are exploring alternative to mammograms for breast screening. However, be aware that on Feb. 25, 2019, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a safety communication informing patients that thermography is not a substitute for mammography breast cancer screening and diagnosis. https://www.fda.gov/medical-devices/safety-communications/fda-warns-thermography-should-not-be-used-place-mammography-detect-diagnose-or-screen-breast-cancer

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