Can Digital Thermal Imaging Detect Breast Cancer?

Digital Infrared Thermal Imaging (DITI) has the potential to become an useful tool in the detection of cancerous tissue in the human body. Advocates suggest that it could possibly be utilized in addition to mammography (using x ray images) since it does not emit radiation and is able to spot problem areas long before a x ray image can reveal cancerous activity.

Let us be clear; it is not feasible to diagnose cancer with thermal imaging, an ultrasound or x ray mammography scan. Each imaging method is implemented as a means of detection, although DITI doesn’t have the support of the US Food and Drug Administration (fda) or The UK National Institute for Clinical Excellence and Health () which is nice for this clinical application. Only a surgically invasive biopsy can currently provide an accurate diagnosis. Self-examination, along with mammography, are the officially accepted methods of detection.

Cancerous activity in the body changes the metabolic activity in that area, since tumours use angiogenesis to feed themselves with blood. Vascular activity becomes abnormal and heat is created. It’s possible to interpret hot-spots in a thermal image as what appears to be increased vascular activity in a subject breast and this may indicate abnormal activity. However, I’d speculate that the NHS seems to think that thermography is incorrect because you can find lots of other harmless conditions that might show up as an “abnormal” result on the thermograph.

Opposition to thermal imaging in cancer detection has been based (not exclusively) on the insensitivity of images to thermal differences. Cancerous areas are warmer, but they need to be drastically warmer for infrared cameras to indicate usable info. One method, used by Angott Medical Products, suggests that cooling the body before examination will give a much better, more readable, result. They suggest that the abnormal metabolic activity in the cancerous area doesn’t cool as rapidly as the surrounding body tissue, so it must be more noticeable on the thermal image.

Advocates of DITI for breast cancer detection are keen to suggest that it can depict potential cancers long before x ray images because x rays are only able to show much larger – and thus higher – cancerous fibroids. This is only valid if we’re completely sure that thermal images are clearly pinpointing cancerous activity. Cancer Active, “BritainĀ“s Number 1 holistic cancer information charity”, make strong statements for the exceptional characteristics of DITI as an extra breast cancer detection tool, particularly for young ladies where higher breast tissue density tends to make both x ray and ultrasound less useful as predictive tools.

At minimum 2 cases suggest that official bodies are a lot more than circumspect in relation to claims made by commercial interests. Recently the Advertising Standards Authority upheld a claim against The Homeopathic Clinic who had claimed, perhaps misleadingly, that thermography could detect the first signs of breast cancer in females under 50. In the USA, a similar case was brought against Meditherm, Inc by the FDA.

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No official US or perhaps UK source currently backs DITI as a breast cancer detection tool, any person who suspects they have breast cancer is best relying on the counsel of the physician of theirs. Private firms operating DITI detection procedures may have trained clinicians who can decipher thermal images but there’s no official quality control applied to their analysis and advice.

Thermal imaging has been used as a clinical tool by veterinary surgeons, especially in the detection of animal injury. It’s also entering the arena of sports medicine. At the moment the growth areas for thermal imaging are still in areas including fire-fighting, and electrical and building safety inspection.

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