It seems like “thermography vs. mammogram” is all the buzz amongst women age 30 and up, and for good reason – cancer is now the #1 fatal disease, and one in eight women will develop invasive breast cancer.
The medical community strongly recommends mammograms as an “early detection” tool, but in alternative circles it is believed that mammograms can actually contribute to breast cancer and may only be questionably effective in helping to save lives.
Do mammograms increase the risk of breast cancer?
I'm going to step into my science-nerd costume for just a minute here, so bear with me:
Radiation is measured in millisieverts (mSv). We are naturally exposed to radiation through our environment (called “natural background radiation”), and according to Wikipedia, “The worldwide average natural dose to humans is about 2.4 mSv per year” with the U.S. coming in around 3.1 mSv.
RadiologyInfo.org breaks down the amount of radiation in particular xrays:
- A standard chest xray is 0.1 mSv = 10 days of natural background radiation.
- A mammogram is 0.7 mSv = 7 weeks of natural background radiation.
- A spinal xray is 1.5 mSv = 6 months of natural background radiation.
- An abdominal and pelvic xray is 10-20 mSv = 3-7 years of natural background radiation.
As you can see, a single mammogram is not really an astounding amount of radiation, however, since the National Cancer Institute now recommends that women over 40 receive a mammogram every 1-2 years, over the course of a few decades this exposure certainly adds up.
But how much risk is associated with regular mammograms? Well, one mammogram carries the same amount of risk as smoking 3 packs of cigarettes. For some this may seem like an acceptable calculated risk each year over the alternative of undetected breast cancer.
As much as I'd prefer to side with my crunchy friends on this one, it's not completely clear that radiation from mammograms will increase the risk of breast cancer enough to justify avoiding the test – especially when used in conjunction with breast thermography as outlined below.
There is also debate whether or not the extreme compression of breast tissue during a mammogram may lead to the spread of malignant cells due to rupture of associated blood vessels. I don't know about you, but I'd like an option that would prevent me from having enough malignant cells in my breast worth spreading, wouldn't you?
So the next question to tackle…
Do mammograms really provide sufficient early detection of breast cancer?
A mammogram is a high powered x-ray that looks for anatomical changes in breast tissue such as lumps or masses. Thermography is infrared photography detects physiological differences – namely increased heat and blood flow – relative to surrounding tissue.
According to Sandra Fields, a nurse midwife and thermography proponent who writes for the renowned herbalist, Susun Weed:
By the time a tumor reaches the size of a pin head (approximately two years into its growth) it can no longer be sustained by the normal blood supply and so it develops its own. The development of that blood supply is called angiogenesis. Thermography is the only technology in place that can detect angiogenesis.
Mammogram is not early detection. A cancerous tumor has been growing eight to ten years before it is big enough and dense enough to be detected by mammography. That is why the treatment at that stage is so drastic – removal of breast, underlying muscle, lymph nodes, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and hormonal therapy. (my emphases in bold)
Following early detection with thermography, the appropriate treatment is usually diet and lifestyle modifications as opposed to the invasive treatment at later detection.
In June of 2011, the FDA released a press announcement stating that breast thermography is not a substitute for mammography.
The International Academy of Clinical Thermology (IACT) agrees with the FDA, explaining that thermography is actually a different type of diagnostic tool altogether, providing earlier detection of abnormal cell activity for more proactive preventative care. When added to a woman's regular breast health checkups (manual exams and mammograms), there is a 61% increased survival rate. (source)
Fields sums it up well:
Mammogram should be placed in it's proper hierarchy.
[After manual exams,] first thermography, if suspicious, then sonography [ultrasound], if suspicious, then mammogram to pinpoint the exact location of an existing tumor for biopsy.
7 additional facts about thermography vs. mammograms
- Breast thermography has been FDA approved as an adjunct diagnostic tool to mammograms since 1982.
- There have been 800 peer-reviewed breast thermography studies in which over a quarter million women have participated in large-scale studies over 12 years. These studies show thermography to be 90% accurate.
- Mammograms in pre-menopausal women can be up to 89% inaccurate, leading to unnecessary procedures, as well as emotional and physical trauma.
- Many false negatives occur with mammograms since tumors are frequently located in the upper outer aspects of the breasts where the scans do not reach.
- In Europe, Canada, & Australia healthy breasts are routinely screened with thermography and mammograms are used as a second line of diagnosis.
- For earliest detection and prevention, it is recommended that women receive baseline breast thermography at age 20, every three years between ages 20-30, and annually from age 30.
- Starting breast thermography at any age gives you the safest and earliest detection possible.
What do you think?
Thermography? Mammograms? Or both?