A BREAST SCREENING TOOL TO DETECT EARLY CHANGES IN BREAST TISSUE IN WOMEN OF ALL AGES
Compiled (with some sections written) by Dr Arien van der Merwe
MBChB FRIPH MISMA
Information sourced from various published research articles supplied by Thermal Health Solutions, South Africa. Complete articles and research summaries available on request.
A breast screening tool to detect early changes in breast tissue for women of all ages, now available in South Africa.
Finally, a painless, non-invasive screening procedure, that carries no risk of radiation or painful, even potentially harmful, compression of breasts! Digital Infrared Thermal Imaging (DITI) is a heat sensitive scanning device (very much like a large digital camera) that detects variations in the temperature of tissue. It is therefore used, not only for breast screening, but also for screening of the whole body, all organs, even muscle tears, joint injuries and the prostate gland in men.
Breast thermography, which involves a heat sensitive scanner to detect variations in the temperature of breast tissue, has been available since the Sixties. Early thermal scanners were not very sensitive and were insufficiently tested before being put into practice, resulting in wrongly diagnosed cases. Modern breast thermography has immensely improved technology, based on extensive scientific clinical research. This article references data from major peer reviewed journals and research on more than 300,000 women who have participated, using this technology.
Breast thermography can assist in early identification of even slight changes in breast tissue, as well as increasing awareness among women of all ages. It has demonstrated a higher degree of success in identifying women with breast cancer under the age of 55 in comparison to other technologies, and is also an effective addition, complementray to clinical breast exams and mammography for women over 55. It provides a non-invasive and safe detection method with no danger of radiation. If introduced at age 25, it will provide a benchmark, or thermal signature that future scans can be compared with for even greater detection accuracy.
The most devastating loss of life from breast cancer occurs in women between 30-50 years of age. According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer is the leading cause of death in women 40-44 years of age. Although breast cancer has only 10% the morbidity and mortality of coronary heart disease, it is generally more feared.
Yet the American Medical Association (AMA) journal, American Medical News (10 November 2003 issue), reports that little documented evidence exists to prove that mammography saves lives from breast cancer in premenopausal women, which include many of the women who fall into these age groups.
Obviously, as a detection tool, mammography has a valuable place in clinical practice; however, other technologies are proving to be more effective in breast cancer detection and should become part of mainstream clinical practice in order to save more lives.
Fortunately, women today have more options available to them to help in the detection of breast cancer than in past decades. Unfortunately, education and awareness of these options and their effectiveness in detecting breast cancer at different stages in life are sadly deficient.
The hereditary breast cancer genes, referred to as BRCA 1 and 2, are associated with breast and ovarian cancers.However, these genetic factors account for only 5-10% of all breast cancer! Lesser known factors are estimated to account for another 10% of all breast cancers. In at least 70% of cases, however, the cause of breast cancer is yet unknown.
Generally accepted risk factors for breast cancer
Risk for breast cancer is increased if a woman:
- Had her first period before age 12
- Went through menopause after age 50
- Had her first child after age 30 or never were pregnant
- Was on hormone replacement therapy or birth control pills
- Consumes two or more alcoholic drinks per day
- Has a family history of breast cancer
- Is found to have inherited the breast cancer genes
- Is postmenopausal and gained weight (not so for premenopausal women)
- Has elevated levels of insulin as seen with syndrome X, metabolic syndrome or type 2 diabetes, which are conditions associated with central obesity and increased levels of insulin-like growth factor 1
- Is sedentary (doesn’t get enough exercise – moderate intensity 30 minutes 5 times a week)
Lesser known underlying emotional risk factors
The breasts are the nurturing, life giving glands in a woman’s body. Caroline Myss writes in The Creation of Healththat breast cancer often occurs in women that tend and serve others (mothering) while neglecting themselves. A woman might feel unconsciously that she gives and gives, but seldom receives love, acknowledgement and comforting. Such a woman might give the appearance of being emotionally strong, but deep in her soul being, totally unconscious, lies the buried energy images of personal neglect. This process might start during a difficult childhood with too many demands, too little time to really be a child, too many expectations of caring for others.
Breast cancer might also develop in some women because of an inability to have a child, or to breast feed it. It feels as if her goal in life hasn’t been fulfilled. Guilt, self hatred, little or no acceptance and unconditional love during childhood can also play a role. Other women might be unconsciously afraid that their identity and self worth as earth mother might be lost when grown up children leave the home. They might experience an existential crisis doubting their further usefulness as a human being.
Genetic tendency of course also plays a role, but genetic weakness is a potential rather than a promise or certainty! As we’ve seen, only 5-10% of women with breast cancer have a positive family history.
The mind-body-soul connection should not be regarded a blame, as if you create your disease on purpose! Far from it, as the process lies so deeply buried in the cell memories, that it isn’t even close to consciousness. This energy explanation for breast cancer serves only as a guide to help with the essential inner healing when disease is regarded as teacher rather than curse. If you identify deep hurt and injury, consult a sensitive health care practitioner. A lot of research has been done that shows the survival and remission rate of women with breast cancer increase dramatically when they attend group support sessions and workshops that help them deal with the inner issues that led to and exacerbate, the disease.
Popular myths regarding what causes breast cancer include antiperspirants, wearing a wire bra, and having had an abortion.
Once the scan identifies early changes, women must go for health coaching or health mentoring, to help them work through the lifestyle options, such as diet, exercise, stress management, food supplements and herbal remedies, relaxation training, and maybe most important of all, addressing the underlying mental-emotional and spiritual issues, to be able to release blockages in internal energy flow, through guided visualisations or imagery.
The history of breast thermography
Breast thermography has been available in clinical practice since the 1960s. Initially, physicians were very excited when they learned that breast cancers emit more infrared heat than normal healthy tissues, and that they could be detected using infrared scanners. However, this technology was brought into practice prematurely–before clinical trials were completed, and before sufficient information about other health conditions that also emitted large amounts of infrared light were understood.
Unfortunately, this resulted in many women having breast surgeries that did not have breast cancer. Eventually, the high rate of unneeded surgeries led to the rejection of infrared breast imaging in the United States, with the entire technology being sidelined by mainstream medical practice for several decades.
Since the 1970s, however, clinical research has continued, especially in Canada and France where this technology is considered more mainstream. More than 800 research papers have been published on the subject of breast thermography, and a research databank on more than 300,000 women who have been tested with infrared breast imaging now exists.
In addition, major advances in infrared imaging technology have been achieved that improve the sensitivity to 0.05 degrees centigrade, which makes identifying breast cancer much easier and more reliable. The combination of improved technology and scientific clinical research is sparking the return of breast thermography into clinical practice today.
How breast thermograms work
Breast thermography measures differences in infrared heat emission from normal breast tissue, benign breast abnormalities–such as fibrocystic disease, cysts, infections and benign tumors–and from breast cancers. It does this with a high degree of sensitivity and accuracy. Breast thermography is a non-invasive measurement of the physiology of breast tissue. This technology is not meant to replace mammography or other diagnostic tests presently used in clinical practice that measure anatomical abnormalities in breast tissue. While breast cancer can only be diagnosed by tissue biopsy, breast thermography safely eliminates the need for most unnecessary biopsies as well as their associated high cost and emotional suffering, and it does so years sooner than any other test in modern medicine.
Modern infrared scanners have a thermal sensitivity of 0.05 degrees Celsius. Because tumor tissue does not have an intact sympathetic nervous system, it cannot regulate heat loss. When the breast is cooled with small fans in a room kept at 20 degrees Celsius, blood vessels of normal tissue respond by constricting to conserve heat while tumor tissue remains hot. Thus, tumors emit more heat than their surrounding tissues and are usually easily detected by heat-sensing infrared scanners.
Over time, cancerous tissues stay hot or become even hotter–they do not cool down. In sharp contrast, however, other possible conditions such as fibrocystic breasts, infections, and other benign disorders cool down as they resolve.
Breast thermograms have highly specific thermal patterns in each individual woman. They provide a unique thermal signature that remains constant over years unless there is a change in an underlying condition. Thus, over time, it is possible to differentiate between cancers and benign conditions. Based on this ability to more accurately detect cancers over time, it becomes important to have a benchmark early on in a woman’s life. For this reason, women should have breast thermography performed beginning at age 25.
Thermograms are graded with a system much like pap smears with grades 1-5. Th1 and Th2 are normal, Th3 is moderately abnormal, and Th4 and Th5 are severely abnormal and require careful follow-up because many of them are caused by cancer. Of significance, one recent study documented that women with Th1 and Th2 scores can be reassured with a 99% level of confidence that they do not have breast cancer.
Clinical research supporting breast thermography
At least five important studies published between 1980 and 2003 document that breast thermal imaging is a major advancement in identifying breast cancers not only with greater sensitivity and specificity, but also years earlier than with any other scientifically tested medical technology.
Highlights from breast thermography studies
- Advances in infrared technology combined with data on 300,000 women with mammotherms document that breast thermography is highly sensitive and accurate. Today, this means that more than 95% of breast cancers can be identified, and that this is done with 90% accuracy. In women under the age of 50, where there is the most devastating loss of life from breast cancer, mammography, MRIs and PET scans cannot come close to matching the combined sensitivity and specificity (accuracy) of breast thermography.
- Breast thermography involves no radiation exposure or breast compression, is easy to do, is done in a private setting, and is affordable.
- The FDA approved breast thermography for breast cancer risk assessment in 1982.
- It is important to begin breast cancer screening long before age 40. It should begin at age 25 in order to identify young women who are already developing breast cancer since it takes approximately 15 years for a breast cancer to form and lead to death. Further, young women with dense breast tissue are the most difficult to evaluate using breast palpation, mammography, and ultrasound examinations, yet their significantly higher risk of developing breast cancer can be accurately detected with breast thermography.
- Mainstream procedures are not approved for breast cancer screening in women under age 40 – it is widely known and accepted that they miss too many cancers and lead to too many false positive findings that result in far too many needless breast biopsies’’.
There is an abundance of scientific evidence supporting that breast thermography is the most sensitive and accurate way to identify women with breast cancer, especially in women under the age of 55, where it causes the most devastating loss of life. For women over 55, breast thermography is an important adjunct to clinical breast examination and mammography, as this combination has been documented to increase identification of breast cancers to 98%.
Because of its low cost and high degree of sensitivity and accuracy, all women who want to be screened for breast cancer should begin having breast thermograms from age 25 to start accumulating a thermal signature. There are situations that justify the use of other modalities such as mammography, ultrasound, MRI, PET scanning, nipple aspirations, or biopsy, and these valuable tools should continue to be used in clinical practice along with breast thermography.
There are many more technologies that may become mainstream in the near future. With refined genetic technology, new proteins are being discovered that offer promise as markers of early breast cancer. Recently published reports also suggest that MRI technology may be blended with spectrophotometric measurements that could diagnose breast cancer without even doing a biopsy.
Medicine, just like life, is constantly evolving. Mostly, Western science moves slowly and cautiously, sometimes at the expense of human life. We must remain open minded and aware as new, exciting and safe strategies emerge, especially in situations where there is such an urgent need for more effective approaches.
Conclusion: The good news
Once health risks, such as initial slight variations in breast tissue, overweight & obesity, emotional factors, elevated levels of cholesterol, blood pressure & insulin as seen with metabolic syndrome or type 2 diabetes, have been identified, health solutions: through health coaching can be put in place, for the risks to be managed. Careful monitoring, individual and group support, 3-monthly follow-ups, together with a practical and experiential health coaching and mentoring program, will facilitate the journey into wellness for body, mind, emotions and soul.
Potential problems with mammograms
Summary of article ‘Danger and Unreliability of Mammography’ written by Samuel S. Epstein , Rosalie Bertell, Ph.D., GNSH & Barbara Seaman. Published in the International Journal of Health Services, Volume 31, Number 3, Pages 605-615, 2001, Baywood Publishing Co., Inc. Complete article available on request.
Mammography and women under 50
Mammography has been the state-of-the-art screening test for several decades. However, considerable controversy remains regarding its value, particularly in women under the age of 50. Results from the widely accepted BCDDP study documented that the overall ability of mammograms to detect cancer was only 70%. This means that 30% of mammograms found to be negative for potentially cancerous lesions are actually positive.
False positive rate high
The false positive rate of mammograms (patients without cancer but with a positive finding on testing) turned out to be another problem. Only one biopsy in six was found to be positive for cancer when done on the basis of a positive mammogram or breast examination. The combined false positive rate was determined to be as high as 89%. Identifying and performing biopsies on these clinically insignificant lesions represents overdiagnosis and overtreatment. Further, the physical and psychological stress associated with mammogram findings is not a small concern nor are the additional costs.
Too many mammograms performed?
Recent data from the University of Washington and Harvard University reveals that over a period of a single decade, one out of every two women will have a false positive result as the result of mammography, and of those, nearly 20% will undergo an unnecessary breast biopsy. Contrary to what many health-related agencies advise, recent findings seem to demonstrate that too many rather than too few mammograms are performed every year in theUnited States. Further, estimates show that for every $100 spent on the cost of mammograms, $33 goes to the unproductive and unnecessary expense of false positive results.
Mammograms for women over 70
A recent article from Duke University Medical Center reports that women over 70 are over-screened for both breast and cervical cancers. The authors estimated the cost in the year 2000 for women over the age of 70 for the unnecessary mammograms they received was approximately $460 million. The article went on to point out that clinical guidelines for women over the age of 70 are ambiguous and based on almost no clinical research.
Mammography and younger women
For younger women, mammography is more likely to miss breast cancers that are rapidly growing, especially in women with dense breast tissue who are at a significantly increased risk for developing breast cancer. At least 10% of breast cancers cannot be identified by mammography, even when they are palpable.
Other mainstream technologies
Advances in technology now allow digitally enhanced mammograms to be taken alone or after injecting intravenous contrast, but they have not been proven to be significantly more sensitive than regular mammograms, and they have the added risk of the invasiveness of an injection that can cause other problems. Further, they come with a substantial increase in cost and still expose the patient to radiation.
Similarly, MRIs with and without contrast are a step forward, but they involve similar risks and are even more costly. While their sensitivity is near 90%, their accuracy (specificity) in identifying cancer as opposed to some other benign finding is no better than mammograms.
PET (Positron Emission Tomography) scans are useful in identifying metastatic lesions but have an overall sensitivity similar to mammography. Further, for breast tumors less than one centimeter, only 25% of breast cancers are identifiable using this technology. The most useful application of PET scans are in discriminating between viable tumor, fibrotic scar, and necrosis. Radiologists do not recommend PET scanning as a screening tool in asymptomatic women for breast cancer.
For women under the age of 40, no accurate or cost effective technology exists in mainstream medical practice that identifies lesions likely to be breast cancer with reasonable sensitivity and specificity. Given that breast cancer is the leading cause of death in women between the ages of 40 and 44, it is obvious that a pressing need exists for another test to identify these cancers when they are just starting to develop and still small enough to be cured.
Most breast cancers do not become palpable until they are greater than one centimeter in size – by that time 25% have already metastasized. Because most lethal breast cancers take approximately 15 years from their beginning to the time of death, women need reliable testing that starts when the cancer is initially forming–in their mid-twenties.
Even though there is reliable technology existing today that is available, there is limited awareness and insufficient education that has resulted in its being greatly underused in clinical practice.
For additional info email Melinda on thermalhealthcentre.co.za or visit www.meditherm.com
Dr Arien van der Merwe
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