With breast cancer affecting about 1 in 8 women in the United States, many women believe that regular mammograms are the only option when it comes to early stage breast cancer detection. But another key tool for detection and prevention is available: thermography.

What Is Thermography?

Thermography (also called Digital Infrared Thermal Imaging) is a form of imaging that looks at the body in a completely different way than mammography. Mammography looks at the anatomical parts of the body (structure). Thermography looks at the physiological parts of the body (function or activity). As far as breast cancer is concerned, a mammogram will show a lump, while a thermogram will show heat patterns in blood flow created around and feeding the lump.

Mammography uses radiation to take an x-ray image. Thermography uses infrared heat emitted out of the body to capture an image. Thermograms do not expose the body to any form of radiation. Unlike mammograms, thermograms do not involve any compression of the breast tissue or the associated pain.

Cameras used in thermography “are able to differentiate and measure very subtle temperature differences in infrared heat emission from tumors, cysts, infections, or trauma in the breast. Because tumor tissue does not have an intact sympathetic nervous system, it cannot control heat loss. When the breast is cooled in a temperature controlled room, blood vessels of normal tissue may respond by constricting to conserve heat while tumor tissue and its blood vessels may remain hot.”¹

The patterns associated with tumors may remain hotter than their surrounding tissues, allowing them to be detected by heat-sensing cameras. When the body is viewed through a thermal imaging camera, warm areas stand out against cooler areas, and changes in patterns can be tracked over time.

According to the Eagle Institute of Clinical Thermology: 

“While mammography, ultrasound, MRI, and other types of structural imaging rely primarily on finding the physical tumor, thermography is based on detecting the heat produced by increased blood vessel circulation and metabolic changes associated with a tumor’s genesis and growth. By detecting minute variations in normal blood vessel activity, infrared imaging may find thermal signs suggesting a pre-cancerous state of the breast or the presence of an early tumor that is not yet large enough to be detected by physical examination, mammography, or other types of structural imaging.”²

Mammogram vs. thermogram | The Wellness Way

(image source: fda.gov)

Thermography Detects Inflammation

Mammography provides imaging that screens for structural abnormalities. However, in March 2019, the FDA proposed amendments to key regulations regarding mammograms, admitting that mammography does not find all breast cancer, especially in those with dense breast tissue.³

Conversely, thermography provides functional imaging, revealing physiological changes and patterns. Measuring the body’s thermal patterns allows for detection of areas of heat, or inflammation. In many cases, inflammation exists long before disease develops, making thermography an excellent preventative tool that provides important feedback on the body’s overall function before disease shows up. Thermography is a non-invasive, pain-free tool to help detect areas of inflammation in breast tissue, much like a gut test reveals intestinal inflammatory markers.

If you’ve been around The Wellness Way for a minute, you know we talk about inflammation frequently! This is because it plays such a determining role in health and wellness. Inflammation is the common denominator of so many health challenges, including cancer and disease formation. 

The Importance of Hormone Testing

While thermography offers a valuable snapshot of localized inflammation in the body, hormones also provide key information regarding a woman’s risk of disease formation. 

Hormones are chemical messengers. They tell the systems and organs within the body what to do. When there is a breakdown in that messaging system, it can cause dysfunction in all other areas of the body and lead to—you guessed it—disease.

Let’s take a look at estrogen, for example. Estrogen itself is not a hormone. Estrogen is a term for 10 different hormones that are chemically similar.⁴ All of the estrogens play an important role in the body and in making a woman who she is. When one type of estrogen gets out of control, an environment can be created that allows for the growth of breast cancer. For that reason, estrogen is often demonized in the traditional medical community. However, this demonization can have a detrimental effect on a body that relies on multiple estrogens for health!

Testing hormones before disease comes knocking at the door is a pathway to prevention. In addition to estradiol (the most common estrogen tested), there are nine others we test for at The Wellness Way: 

  • Estrone
  • Estriol
  • 16-hydroxyestrone
  • 4-hydroxyestrone
  • 2-hydroxyestrone
  • 2-methoxyestrone
  • 2-hydroxyestradiol
  • 4-hydroxyestradiol
  • 2- methoxyestradiol

If you have not had your hormones tested, contact a Wellness Way clinic near you. We use state of the art, cutting edge, thorough diagnostic tests to gain valuable insights that help inform us in how to guide our patients to restored health.

Use the Tools Available to You

Disease prevention entails a whole lot more than early detection. Sure, a mammogram may inform you of any structural abnormalities within your breast tissue, but it is not in any way helping to prevent disease formation. 

Thermography and hormone testing provide a much more robust snapshot of your overall wellness, especially when repeated over time to determine your unique patterns, areas of trauma, and toxic burdens. The body is an ever-changing ecosystem. Regular, non-invasive imaging like thermography can provide valuable insights into that ecosystem and how it is evolving with age, lifestyle changes, behaviors, and more.

As you consider how you may support disease prevention in your life, we encourage you to use the tools available to you! 

  • Make a thermography appointment. There are many independent thermography providers all throughout the U.S. 
  • Find a Wellness Way clinic near you to speak with one of our doctors about hormone testing. 
  • Prioritize rest, stress management, and healthy eating in your life. 
  • Foster healthy relationships that fill you up and bring you joy.

Determining your risk for breast cancer does not begin and end with mammograms. Supporting health and vitality in all spheres of your life is where the real prevention begins.