Ask the Doctor: Can Breast Thermography Help Me?

Posted on Apr 10, 2013 in Research

Q: I’ve read that breast thermography is a safer alternative to mammography. Do you recommend breast thermograms?

A:  Thermography is a useful adjunct to mammography. If an abnormal lesion is found on a mammogram or breast MRI, a thermogram can help to clarify the findings. The additional information reduces the risk of an unnecessary biopsy.

However, thermography is not yet accurate enough to replace mammography or breast MRI. For example, a recent study found that thermography had a sensitivity of only 25%. That means that thermography missed 3 out of 4 breast cancers. For more information, read the thermography article that I wrote for Natural Medicine Journal, the official journal of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians.

If you’re concerned about radiation, I recommend either digital mammography or breast MRI. Digital mammography has a much lower radiation dose than traditional mammography, and is also more accurate. Breast MRI is appropriate for young women with dense breasts and for women with breast implants. If you are getting a mammogram, I can also advise natural therapies that can protect healthy cells from the small dose of radiation.

Technology continues to improve, so it is possible that a highly accurate thermogram will be available in the next 5-10 years. Researchers at Stanford University are currently working on next generation thermography technology. Also, a biophysicist in San Diego is developing a handheld breast screening device. However, for now, I continue to recommend digital mammography and breast MRI to my patients.