I am back with the second half of my blog series featuring the wonderful Candace Parmer of Radiant Body Thermography here in Portland, Oregon! With more and more warnings coming out from longtime medical professionals around the world about the dangers of mammography (and not just in holistic publications), I asked her to talk more in depth about the benefits of using breast thermography as the first (and safest) risk assessment tool for breast cancer.
**To locate a ACCT-approved thermographer near you (not just in the US but all over the world, click here**
In Part One, I shared my own story with thermography and introduced Candace, who explained the work she does as a thermographer and how she works with the medical thermologists, the process of breast thermography as well as the benefits of going this route. Now, I want to continue on the topic of Why, along with a discussion on mammography vs thermography.
“In 2013, the Swiss Medical Board reviewed the evidence supporting mammography screening and arrived at a startling conclusion: Do away with it. The board’s final recommendation was that no new awareness-raising initiatives would be launched to support mammography screening and that existing programs would be phased out over time.” (source)
Candace Parmer, CCT
As it takes years for most cancers to develop to the stage that they can be detected with mammogram or ultrasound – as they need to be dense enough for location and biopsy – digital infrared thermal imaging (AKA thermography) is an ideal screening tool to identify changes over time in the early development stages, before there is more advanced pathology that can be detected with other tests.
Thermography detects thermal and vascular changes, like inflammation, that occur years before tumors form so that individuals may take action to decrease the chance of cancer ever occurring.
Thermography examines the armpits or “axilla” where breast cancer often begins in lymph nodes, an area not seen by mammography.
Because it can show tissue changes years before tumors develop, thermography is equally useful for monitoring cancer survivors in remission who are either unwilling or unable to undergo imaging with carcinogenic ionizing radiation tests like PET scans and mammography.
In her excellent book Cancer Free? Are You Sure?, Jenny Hrbacek RN, warns that waiting years for a tumor to grow large enough to be seen with a PET scan or mammography is NOT early detection. Along with thermography, Hrbacek lists details about many safe, simple functional medical tests that use blood, urine, or fecal samples to provide early warning signs years before tumors form! Mammography missed her breast cancer so she’s telling the world how to test with truly early detection methods rather than waiting for tumors to develop.
She’s got plenty of medical professionals who agree with her. Dr. Michael Greger, MD, agrees with Hrbacek’s statement that mammography is not early detection: “Breast cancer can take decades to develop, so “early” detection via mammogram may be too late….”early detection” may in effect be really, really late detection.”
The Best Breast Test
While thermography can be done on any part of the body, it is particularly well-suited for screening breasts of all sizes and densities, including ones with implants or ultra sensitive breasts. Accuracy (sensitivity) is not decreased by breast density as in mammography. Thermography’s sensitivity is above 90% in all types of breasts including dense ones.
In a study of the effectiveness of thermal imaging in detection of breast cancer published in 2008 by the American Journal of Surgery, thermography identified “58 of 60 malignancies with 97% sensitivity” and was concluded to be “a valuable adjunct to mammography and ultrasound, especially in women with dense breast parenchyma.”
Both cancerous tumors and dense breast tissue appear white on a mammogram, making detection near impossible. The Mayo Clinic’s Dr. Deborah Rhodes, MD, tells us in the documentary Happygram that in screening dense breasts, mammography’s sensitivity drops to 40%, meaning more than half of tumors are missed.
It’s important to know that dense breast tissue is NOT just in younger women before the traditional age recommended for mammograms. In fact, two-thirds of women in their 40’s have dense breast tissue, and up to 1/3 of women retain dense breast tissue for years after menopause.
The Best Predictor of Risk Known
An American Cancer Society study published in 1980 supports thermography as well, stating, “Thermography makes a significant contribution to the evaluation of patients suspected of having breast cancer. The obviously abnormal thermogram carries with it a high risk of cancer.”
In this study, 58,000 patients with breast complaints were examined by conventional means (mammography, clinical exam, biopsy, ultrasound, etc) and with thermography. Of this group, 1,245 were diagnosed as either normal or benign w/ conventional means but because of their thermal “anomalies” were classified as level 3, “at some risk”. Within five years, more than one-third of the abnormal thermogram group had confirmed cancers, leading to the realization that “more rapidly growing lesions with shorter doubling times usually show progressive thermographic abnormalities consistent with the increased metabolic heat production associated with such cancers. Thermography is useful not only as a predictor of risk factor for cancer but also to assess the more rapidly growing neoplasms.” These results proved an abnormal thermogram carries more risk weight than a first order family history.
Dense Breasts and Radiation Absorption
A little known fact about mammography is in plain sight on the the American College of OB-GYN’s website: “Dense breast tissue absorbs significantly more radiation during mammography compared with fatty breast tissue”. A 2013 study confirms this, in which it is cited that mammographically-screened women have significantly higher rates of “interval” cancers (those found by women between screenings), than women who received screening by all other means.
Recently, the ACOG recently changed their mammography screening guidelines, ultimately recommending women have conversations with their doctors about mammography at 40, rather than the previous directive to begin at 40. While admitting that their “data is messy” in this NPR interview, they then insist on mammography at 50 for those who declined earlier.
This information should make us question the claim that there is greater cancer risk if one’s breasts are dense. Is a woman’s risk higher because her dense tissue is absorbing more carcinogenic radiation? Are the oddly written new guidelines a way to shift liability away from the profession and onto the patient by “giving women more say”?
The ACOG’s recent change in screening guidelines has received little publicity from mainstream media, unlike in 2009 when much of the media heavily publicized criticism of the government-sponsored United States Preventive Task Force’s recommendation advising women to begin biennial screening at age 50 instead of 40, due to mammography harms being especially prevalent in younger women.
Breast cancer advocacy groups and several medical professional groups (e.g. American Cancer Society, Komen’s Race for the Cure, American Medical Association, American College of Radiologists, American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologist) criticized the USPTF’s new guidelines, claiming they are the government trying to save money during the economic crash by denying women access to mammography. This “spin” sold well and most medical professionals ignored, and continue to ignore, the USPTF’s advice to stop radiating younger dense breasts.
Is Over-diagnosis and Over-treatment Real?
In 2012, the New England Journal of Medicine published a meta-analysis of all the major mammography trials and estimated that 1.3 million US women have received unnecessary and invasive cancer treatments including surgery, radiology, hormone therapy and chemotherapy over the 3 decades of screening data…. aggressive treatment for indolent (idle) cancers and “pre-cancers” (i.e. DCIS, “Stage Zero”, etc.) that were never destined to become symptomatic:
In Abolishing Mammography Screening Programs?, the NEJM went on to state in their review of the Swiss Medical Board’s recommendations that “The relative risk reduction of approximately 20% in breast-cancer mortality associated with mammography that is currently described by most expert panels came at the price of a considerable diagnostic cascade, with repeat mammography, subsequent biopsies, and overdiagnosis of breast cancers — cancers that would never have become clinically apparent.”
A European leaflet about mammography published by the esteemed Nordic Cochrane Center in 2008 also warns of significant harms that come with mammography’s “benefit”. It states that for every 2000 women screened for 10 years, 1 woman will be saved from a cancer death while TEN healthy women will undergo unnecessary cancer treatment, 200 more will have a biopsy scare, heightening anxiety for years afterward. The leaflet claims praise by the U.S. Center for Medical Consumers as “the first honest mammography information for women written by health professionals.”
The Swiss Medical Board is also warning of the harms of over-diagnosis resulting from mammography screening, ceasing implementation of any new programs “due to very tiny positive effect on mortality if any,” say analysts.
Doctors here in the US are agreeing with the Swiss. In Should Mammograms be Phased Out?, Dr. Christine Horner, MD, breast reconstructive surgeon and author on women’s wellness, states, “I agree with the Swiss Board—screening mammography should no longer be recommended from an ethical standpoint. Instead, a combination of ultrasound, thermography and physical examination are a much better choice. For certain women, an MRI scan which uses a magnet rather than radiation may also be appropriate.”
Thermography Reduces False Positives of Mammography
Did you know that currently there is no way to determine, by looking at cells under a microscope, whether cancer cells are fast-growing or dormant (check out this video)? If a tumor is found by those who choose to go forward with mammography, thermography can provide useful information about whether the area is metabolically active (heat) or indolent and inactive (cold).
For this reason thermography used in conjunction with mammography can improve mammography’s epidemic rates of false positives, subsequently reducing the need for biopsies, surgeries, radiation and chemo on indolent (idle) non-threatening lesions and micro calcifications. Thermography gives clinicians a window into the metabolic activity of the tumor when they add it to their diagnostic toolkit.
This is all that’s involved in thermography – sit down, take your shirt off, and the thermographer tells you how to position yourself for the medical infrared camera imaging. No boob squishing.
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To learn more about Candace Parmer and Radiant Body Thermography, click here. For a great FAQ on the process and much more, click here. For those concerned about the costs, since a number of health insurance plans don’t cover it, I can tell you from personal experience that Flexible Spending Accounts for medical care (FSA’s) do allow you to use your dollars for thermography, and it can also be deducted as a medical expense on your taxes here in the US. Either way though, most providers I’ve researched here in Oregon charge in the $150-250 range, which is about the same out-of-pocket uninsured price as a mammogram.
Being a woman with an extensive family history of breast cancer on both sides of my family, I do not take this topic lightly. My grandmother’s breasts were carved out of her body back in the middle of the 20th Century so she was practically concave, my mother had a mastectomy and reconstruction in the early 1990s, and my (paternal) aunt had a tumor the size of an orange removed and was even featured with her son, my cousin, on Oprah back in 1999 in a “breast cancer angels” episode. I definitely drank the Kool-Aid for a long time and even walked in one Race for the Cure in Seattle with my mother back in the late 1990s. But as the great Maya Angelou once said, when you know better, you do better. And now, I know better.
And remember, breast self examination is still a crucial thing we can all do. If you haven’t seen it in the past, please watch (or just watch again, it’s so beautiful) the “I Touch Myself” Breast Cancer Anthem featuring 10 great Australian female singers and honoring The Divinyls’ Chrissy Amphlett who died from breast cancer in 2013.