What Studies Say About Breast Thermography

In a study comparing clinical examination, mammography, and thermography in the diagnosis of breast cancer, three groups of patients were used: 4,716 patients with confirmed carcinoma, 3,305 patients with histologically diagnosed benign breast disease, and 8.757 general patients (16,778 total participants). This paper also compared clinical examination and mammography to other well-known studies in the literature including the NCI-sponsored Breast Cancer Detection Demonstration Projects. In this study, clinical examination had an average sensitivity of 75% in detecting all tumors and 50% in cancers less than 2 cm in size. This rate is exceptionally good when compared to many other studies at between 35-66% sensitivity. Mammography was found to have an average 80% sensitivity and 73% specificity. Thermography had an average sensitivity of 88% (85% in tumors less than 1 cm in size) and a specificity of 85%. An abnormal thermogram was found to have a 94% predictive value. From the findings in this study, the authors suggested that, “none of the techniques available for screening for breast carcinoma and evaluating patients with breast related symptoms is sufficiently accurate to be used alone. For best results, a multimodal approach should be used.”

Source: Nyirjesy, I., Ayme, Y., et al: Clinical Evaluation, Mammography, and Thermography in the Diagnosis of Breast Carcinoma. Thermology 1:170-173, 1986.

Spitalier and associates screened 61,000 women using thermography over a 10-year period. The false-negative and positive rate was found to be 11% (89% sensitivitiy and specificity). 91% of the nonpalpable cancers (T0 rating) were detected by thermography. Of all the patients with cancer, thermography alone was the first alarm in 60% of the cases. The authors also noted that “in patients having no clinical or radiographic suspicion of malignancy, a persistently abnormal breast thermogram represents the highest known risk factor for the future development of breast cancer.”

Source: Spitalier, H., Giraud, D., et al: Does Infrared Thermography Truly Have a Role in Present-Day Breast Cancer Management? Biomedical Thermology, Alan R. Liss New York, NY. Pp. 269-278, 1982.

In a series of 4,000 confirmed breast cancers, Thomassin and associates observed 130 sub-clinical carcinomas ranging in diameter of 3-5 mm. Both mammography and thermography were used alone and in combination. Of the 130 cancers, 10% were detected by mammography only, 50% by thermography alone, and 40% by both techniques. Thus, there was a thermal alarm in 90% of the patients and the only sign in 50% of the cases.

Source:  Thomassin, L., Giraud, D. et al: Detection of Subclinical Breast Cancers by Infrared Thermography. Recent Advances in Medical Thermology (Proceedings of the Third International Congress of Thermology), Plenum Press, New York, NY. Pp. 575-579, 1984.

In the past 30 years there have been numerous studies that have demonstrated thermography to have the ability to detect breast abnormalities that other screening methods may not have identified. The Ville Marie study demonstrated that thermography alone had a sensitivity of 83% in detecting breast cancer [versus 66% sensitivity for mammography], while the combination of mammography and thermography had a 95% sensitivity…No single tool provides excellent predictability; however, a combination that incorporates thermography may boost both sensitivity and specificity.

Source:  Kennedy DA, Lee T, Seely D. A comparative review of thermography as a breast cancer screening technique. Integrative Cancer Therapies. 2009; 8(1):9-16

Our recent retrospective analysis of the clinical records of patients who had breast thermography demonstrated that an abnormal thermogram was associated with an increased risk of breast cancer and a poorer prognosis for the breast cancer patient…Breast cancer patients with abnormal thermograms have faster-growing tumors that are more likely to have metastasized and to recur with a shorter disease-free interval.

Source:  Head JF, Wang F, Elliott RL. Breast thermography is a noninvasive prognostic procedure that predicts tumor growth rate in breast cancer patients.  Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 1993; 698:153-8

Stark and Way screened 4,621 asymptomatic women, 35% of whom were under 35 years of age, and detected 24 cancers (detection rate of 7.6 per 1,000), with a sensitivity and specificity of 98.3% and 93.5% respectively.

Source: Stark, A., Way, S.: The Screening of Well Women for the Early Detection of Breast Cancer Using Clinical Examination with Thermography and Mammography. Cancer 33:1671-1679, 1974.

Several studies have shown that infrared imaging [thermography] is a good, and perhaps the best, method for risk assessment in breast cancer…the presence of an abnormal asymmetric infrared heat pattern [thermogram] of the breasts probably increases a woman’s risk of getting breast cancer at least ten-fold.

Source:  Head JF, Elliott RL. Infrared imaging: making progress in fulfilling its medical promise. IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology. 2002;21(6):80-5

From the mid-1950s to the mid-1970s, it was expected that thermography would hold the key to breast cancer detection, as surface temperature increases overlying malignant tumors had been demonstrated by thermographic imaging…Recent studies suggest that an abnormal thermal sign, in the light of our present knowledge of breast cancer, is ten times as important an indication as is family history data.

Source:  Keith LG, Oleszczuk JJ, Laguens M. Circadian rhythm chaos: a new breast cancer marker. International Journal of Fertility and Women’s Medicine. 2001; 46(5):238-47

In a large scale multi-center review of nearly 70,000 women screened, Jones reported a false-negative and false-positive rate of 13% (87% sensitivity) and 15% (85% sensitivity) respectively for thermography.

Source:  Jones CH: Thermography of the Female Breast. In: C.A. Parsons (Ed) Diagnosis of Breast Disease, University Park Press, Baltimore, pp.214-234, 1983.

Cancer, 1980, Volume 56, 45-51. (17) Fifty-eight thousand patients with breast complaints were examined between 1965 and 1977. Twelve hundred and forty-five patients with abnormal Th3 mammotherms had normal breasts by mammography, ultrasound, physical exam, and biopsy. Thirty-eight percent of women with normal breasts and 44% of those with mastopathy developed biopsy proven breast cancer within five years. Ninety percent of patients with Th4 or 5 had diagnosis of cancer made on their first visit.

Biomedical Thermology, 1982, 279-301, Alan Liss, Inc, New York. Michel Gautherie, MD, followed 10,834 women over 2 to 10 years by clinical examination, mammography and thermography. (15) The study followed 387 people with normal breast examinations and mammograms but Th3 thermographic scores for an average of less than three years. In those without symptoms, 33% developed cancer. In those with cystic mastitis, cancer developed in 41%. These were predominately women between 30 to 45 years of age where breast cancer is the leading cause of death.

Thermology, 1986, Volume 1, 170-73. (18) The effectiveness of mammography, clinical palpation, and thermography were compared in the detection of breast cancer. Thermography had the best reliability, but the best results were found when all three were used together.

The Breast Journal, Volume 4, 1998, 245-51. (19) Keyserlingk et al documented 85% sensitivity in diagnosing breast cancer using clinical examination and mammography together. This increased to 98% when breast thermography was added.

American Journal of Radiology, January 2003, 263-69. (16) The journal reported that thermography has 99% sensitivity in identifying breast cancer with single examinations and limited views. Thus, a negative thermogram (Th1 or Th2) in this setting is powerful evidence that cancer is not present.

…And About the Potential Dangers of Mammography

Our estimates suggest that a decade of annual two-view mammographic screening before age 40 years would result in a net increase in breast cancer deaths, and that starting at age 40 years could result in a material net decrease only if breast cancer mortality is reduced by about 20% or more in women screened.

Source:  Berrington de González A, Reeves G.  Mammographic screening before age 50 years in the UK: comparison of the radiation risks with the mortality benefits.  British Journal of Cancer. 2005; 93(5):590-6.

This [new evidence] suggests that the risks associated with mammography screening may be approximately five times higher than previously assumed and that the risk-benefit relationship of mammography exposures may need to be re-examined.

Source:  Heyes GJ, Mill AJ. The neoplastic transformation potential of mammography X rays and atomic bomb spectrum radiation. Radiation Research. 2004;162(2):120-7

Mammography subjects the tissue in the breast to radiation.  Radiation induces DNA damage, increasing the risk of tumor initiation. In addition, many women report pain from compression of the breast for mammography, suggesting that tissue damage may occur during this process. Cell division is induced as part of repair of tissue damage, and dividing cells are more susceptible to transformation than quiescent cells.

Source:  Hanigan MH.  Possible role of mammography in increased incidence of breast cancer not considered.  Archives of Internal Medicine. 2009;169(10):998-9

Although women with BRCA 1/2 gene mutations need routine breast screening moreso than the average woman, due to their already increased risk of breast cancer, the radiation from mammography actually has a greater negative impact on them and raises their risk even more than women without these gene mutations:

Women who carry mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are at greatly increased risk of breast cancer. Numerous studies have shown that moderate to high doses of ionizing radiation are a risk factor for breast cancer…In our series of BRCA carriers, we detected a relatively large effect on breast cancer risk with a level of radiation exposure that is at least an order of magnitude lower than in previously studied medical radiation-exposed cohorts.

Source:  Andrieu N, Easton DF, Chang-Claude J, Rookus MA, et al.  Effect of chest X-rays on the risk of breast cancer among BRCA1/2 mutation carriers in the international BRCA1/2 carrier cohort study: a report from the EMBRACE, GENEPSO, GEO-HEBON, and IBCCS Collaborators’ Group. Journal of Clinical Oncology 2006; 24(21):3361-6