I asked my sister-in-law — Lynda Witt — who is a licensed thermographer in Tucson, Arizona, to answer some questions about breast thermography — or thermography in general.
My April appointment — though painless is never something I look forward to. It also brought some questions to mind she was willing to answer.
Thermograms are part of my well woman care program and an option for many women. Lynda has been doing my thermograms for over ten years now and despite having a busy practice, she was kind enough to help educate me by sharing the facts and dispelling the myths.
What is Breast Thermography?
Q. Can breast thermography be used to detect other cancers besides breast cancer?
A. Please allow me to clarify certain misperceptions about breast thermography (DITI) before we move any further. Breast thermography does NOT detect breast cancer. If all DITI did was detect breast cancer, it wouldn’t be much better than our current methods of detecting breast cancer which do NOT allow for early interventions and lifestyle changes.
Breast thermography is a preventative screening technology. Many women are not aware of the numerous (physiologic) changes that occur in a woman’s body preceding the growth of an abnormality (lump) large enough to be seen on an X-ray or felt during a breast exam. This is because our current paradigm of “health” is to wait until the symptoms of dis-ease are obvious and then move forward with aggressive treatments in hopes that the body survives the attack, but the offending cancer cells are destroyed.
As Dr. Phil says, “How’s that working for us?” I would say that strategy is NOT working at all and here is where DITI shines.
Prior to the formation of a tumor, there are several physiologic changes in the body that can include lymphatic congestion in the breast and armpits, hormonal imbalances seen within unusual thermal patterns, new vascular formations (neovascularity) and a shift away from what was stable.
All these tell-tale signs are what DITI identifies. This allows women the chance to make changes, clean up their diet, manage stress better, reduce alcohol intake, have hormone status checked, vitamin D levels measured and a whole host of other lifestyle choices to improve their breast health and reduce their breast cancer risks.
Preventative Screening: Here is an example of a woman who has had numerous breast thermograms and is at high risk for recurrence of breast cancer because she was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 26!
As you can see, this woman’s thermograms were all about the same until her second annual comparative study (Annual*). Here the reading MD noted that there was concern and findings in the upper right breast were suspicious for neovascularity. This is NEVER a good result because breast physiology in women stabilizes by age 28. No new vascular patterns should ever form once a woman has been deemed to have stable breast physiology.
This woman made changes to diet, exercise and stress management and returned 3 months later to again monitor any changes or improvements. As you can see, her repeat scan showed marked improvement as her thermogram had returned to its previously stable pattern.
PLEASE NOTE: We cannot say that this woman reversed CANCER. We can only say that she has shifted back to her stable pattern. We do not diagnose cancer (or any other diseases) with DITI. This is the value of annual imaging – to monitor breast physiology and continue on with life if no concerning changes are noted. If concerning changes are found, interventions can happen to reverse or prevent progression.
Early Detection (of what was later deemed to be cancer): Screening thermography has the opportunity to detect changes at any stage in the development from the first year through to when a tumor is dense enough to be seen with mammography. This early detection of change can lead to earlier diagnosis and better treatment options as well as the opportunity for patients and their healthcare practitioners to intervene at an early stage with preventative treatment.
This woman had her initial scan at age 37 with no complaints or worries and no family history. Above her right breast there existed a small inflamed area that is NOT on the opposite breast. While not highly suspicious at the time, her 3 months follow up (always needed to determine if things are stable) determined the thermal patterns to be more defined and temperatures had increased from initial scan. (Remember, the images are digital and all temperatures are embedded in each image for study, analysis, archiving, etc.)
We always continue to monitor when changes are seen. We know that because no tumor has formed large enough to be seen or felt, this subject needs close monitoring.
This subject had a mammogram at the 6-month mark which was inconclusive (negative) and she was told not to return for another year. Because this client had been well educated, she continued to return for further thermograms where even more inflammation (from blood supply) is seen. At the 12 month mark from her initial breast scan, she insisted in having a repeat mammogram and the radiologist was guided by the thermologist to look at the 1 o’clock position of the right breast where indeed a 1mm calcification was found. This client was diagnosed with DCIS and needed only a lumpectomy (no radiation, chemotherapy or mastectomy) for treatment. Annual thermograms have been stable.
1. Breast thermography does NOT detect cancer. It alerts women to changes in what was stable or suspicious and as further scans are taken if changes are noted further testing is performed.
2. DITI is not a stand-alone technology. The FDA approved/registered it as an adjunctive screening tool.
3. Because DITI does NOT detect cancer (it detects the heat or change in surrounding tissue), it does not detect cancer in other areas of the body.
4. DITI is used to monitor breast or whole body health annually for comparative purposes watching for any new patterns, increases in temperatures, asymmetrical patterns, etc.
5. DITI is best utilized by those women (and men) who are focused on health and not dis-ease. Those who live an active healthy lifestyle, or who want to live one, and are attempting to heal or regain their wellness. Most who use DITI for either breast or whole body monitoring utilize wellness practitioners (naturopathic physicians, acupuncturists, chiropractors, massage therapists, energy practitioners, etc.) who keep their patients/clients healthy and free from dis-ease.
When cancer is already present in the body and we perform a scan, there can be times when the cancer is not seen. This could be from encapsulation, age of the patient (slow growing cancer), and accommodation from surrounding tissue. Cancer is NOT always advancing, growing, spreading and lethal. Many cancers are found in the breast (and other areas) during post-mortem after the patient has died from something else. This is why DITI does not replace any other screening technology.
Q. Can it at all be used to show ‘hot’ lymph nodes or metastasis similar to a PET scan?
A. Again, changes over time with comparative studies for people with active diseases like cancer can see the increase in temperatures and changes in thermal patterns. Lymph nodes that have increased in temperature can be seen with DITI.
Q. Is there such a thing as false-positives or false-negatives with thermography? If so, in what instances is [this] most likely [to occur] and how often? I heard thermograms are unreliable, is that true?
A. The short answer is no. This technology is based on what the human body is emitting and if you remember that DITI looks for change over time and there is no change, you cannot blame a technology for “missing” something it is not designed to see in the first place – change.
This question often occurs because years ago, when DITI first broke into conventional medicine, it was tested against mammography to see which test was “better” at detecting cancer. Again, a MISUSE of this technology! If you refer back to the images of the subject who was monitored as her thermal patterns and temperature differentials increased, you will see why breast thermography is often maligned as having “too many false positives.”
If a suspicious “hot spot” is seen, a follow mammogram is often the next step to take. In some instances, these “hot spots” are the beginning formation of a blood supply (neovascularity/angiogenesis) and are not seen on a mammogram. Remember, the allopathic medical paradigm is to ‘find dis-ease” and DITI looks to alert women to an increased risk of developing dis-ease in an attempt to reverse or prevent progression of dis-ease.
During the study when thermograms and mammograms were compared, all hot spots were followed up with mammograms. WRONG! You cannot validate a test of physiology with a test of anatomy (structure). There is often nothing large enough to be seen with a test of anatomy. When this happened, DITI was maligned as having too many false positives.
Now we know that this was not the case. DITI was ahead of its time in the arena of prevention. If medicine had understood that cancer does not grow as a small pea-sized lump first and get bigger and bigger they may have realized that what DITI was “seeing” was vascular supply BEFORE a tumor is large to be seen or felt. It was this misuse and misunderstanding of DITI that caused it to fall out of favor and has been slowly working its way back into medicine ever since.
Q. Does it detect a ‘poor’ thyroid, or only precancerous thyroid?
A. DITI doesn’t really detect hypo or hyperthyroidism. It simply lets an individual know that due to asymmetrical patterns over the thyroid region (anterior neck) that further testing is needed if clinical symptoms are present to rule in/out thyroid dysfunction.
Q. How long have you been a thermographer? What IS a thermographer?
A. I received my certification from the American College of Clinical Thermology in August of 2005 and opened my doors in Tucson, Arizona in September of 2005. I am simply a technician who takes your images. I am not a practitioner so I often refer my clients to the many integrative physicians and healers in my area.
Q. Do you read and interpret the scans?
A. No! I am not a medical doctor and only board-certified medical doctors are allowed to read for ACCT certified clinics.
Q. Why would a woman choose a thermogram over a mammogram? Should women also have mammograms?
A. This would depend on each woman and their own research and beliefs about mammograms and thermograms. I certainly don’t encourage any woman to do something she doesn’t feel right about. If you are one who is more focused on dis-ease prevention and maintaining your health, a thermogram would be of great benefit. It doesn’t replace a mammogram (see above), so every woman needs to make the decision for herself. Some women use mammography exclusively, some use DITI only and others use both.
Q. Have you ever personally taken [images] of a woman who had breast cancer and did not know it through a mammogram?
A. I have not taken an image of a woman who unknowingly had cancer not seen on a mammogram, but I have images of women whose mammogram did not see a lump that was later biopsied and found to be cancerous. All palpable masses/lumps need clinical evaluation – period. Even if no thermal patterns are seen, women are encouraged to have follow-up testing (ultrasound or CBE or mammogram) to help determine if a biopsy is needed.
Unfortunately, mammograms can have a high miss rate especially in young women whose breast tissue is dense. Using DITI in younger women with dense breast tissue is so beneficial.
In cases of Inflammatory Breast Cancer (IBC) thermal imaging is invaluable. IBC is highly aggressive and has a poor prognosis. It actually presents as a rash or bug bite that won’t heal. Often women will show this to their PCP and will be given a cream. That doesn’t help and the woman heads to a dermatologist and given a more potent type of topical cream. This doesn’t work either because the woman doesn’t have a skin abnormality, she has IBC. No lump is formed and it is a type not found in routine mammographic screenings.
Q. Can thermograms be used for other than breast health? Can men use thermograms?
A. Yes, women and men use this technology for annual full body comparative analyzes to monitor whole body health and stability of one’s physiology. Men should really consider using DITI annually for cardiac health. Sadly, many men and women have no symptoms of heart dis-ease until they suffer a fatal heart attack. DITI has been proven to be a valuable tool in detecting heart dis-ease. Here are some examples of other uses and findings for DITI:
Q. How often should one have a thermogram?
A. Since DITI is used to monitor change over time, it is best used annually for comparative purposes. Realize that ones thermal pattern is stable over their lifetime until pathology presents. We don’t know when that will be and we may not even realize it is happening. Here is a great example of a client who was in for her routine annual breast thermograms and was very surprised by the finding from the reading thermologist regarding her heart function.
Q. Can thermograms be used to diagnose breast cancer?
A. The only way cancer is diagnosed is with a biopsy, so no, thermograms do not diagnose cancer, but they aid in detecting early-stage breast cancer if annual imaging is done.
Q. If a scan comes in [with] concerns what should a woman do with that information?
A. Further testing is almost always suggested when concerning findings are listed. Your thermal report and images are part of your medical record as they are interpreted by board-certified medical doctors. This report should be given to your health practitioner for reading and if any tests are recommended in your written report, your MD needs to follow up with them.
Q. Do you have to take continuing education courses?
A. Thermographers certified by the American College of Clinical Thermology (ACCT) are encouraged to continue their training. There are 3 levels of training within the ACCT. I am a Level III trained certified clinical thermographer. Level III means that I train others to become thermographers.