As you have read on my previous blog and information on this site, breast thermography is an excellent tool for preventive breast health. Unlike mammography, whose function is to detect a tumor after it has already formed and grown big enough to be seen by the mammograpn (typically 1-2 years), the function of the breast thermogram is to allow prediction on risk of breast cancer. It shows changes typically associated with the formation of cancers. Thus, the clinical use of breast thermography is preventive (allows you to take action before the cancer) while mammography is corrective (take action after the cancer is already there).
The thermogram is rated according to risk (level 1 to 5) with levels 1 and 2 yielding a 99% confidence that there is no breast cancer present. A level 5 risk suggests a 90% risk of cancer already present (even if it just recently started and is microscopic). As the pattern suggestive of declining breast health evolves and becomes more pronounced, the risk level rises. Another way of looking at this is that the pattern shows a gradual decline in breast health, i.e., statistically getting closer to having cancer. Similarly, if no change is taking place year after year, this suggests a stable breast health condition. It is always nice to know that no new vessels or hot spots are developing.
It is even more rewarding to see that the pattern is improving suggesting that whatever is being done is (statistically) reducing the risks. With 1 in 8 women at risk for breast cancer, it is comforting to know that what we are doing is helping our health. We don’t have to be sitting ducks waiting for bad news. It’s a great feeling to know we can have some visibility and control here.
Thus, the added uses of thermography are:
· Monitoring breast health
· Monitoring changes (improvement as well as decline) in breast health
· Monitoring for adverse changes after treatment of breast cancer
· Monitoring to see if the breast health program is working (i.e., is the pattern appearing like a healthier one or is it evolving into a higher risk pattern)
· Helping to monitor hormone replacement therapy (see below)
Another interesting use for the breast thermogram is to help monitor hormone replacement therapy. When estrogen dominance is present (an imbalance of estrogen and progesterone which favors a stronger estrogenic expression), we begin to see a pattern suggestive of higher risk. I use this to help me adjust the dosages so that the thermographic image remains as healthy as it can. At times, I even see a healthier appearance after starting the HRT (I only use bio-identical hormones). If the thermogram starts to look ‘worse’, I adjust the hormone level down until it looks healthy again.
It is imperative that a high resolution camera be used (at least 80,000 pixels) and both colorized as well as grey scale be depicted. The color shows regional heat patterns while the grey scale is excellent for demonstrating vascular patterns.
In the next blog, I’ll describe some of the methods I use for improving breast health. This approach tends to make the breast tissue more uniform and less lumpy as well as tending to make the thermographic image healthier looking. The advantage of the thermogram is that if the image does not appear to be getting healthier, we try a different approach until we (hopefully) find what does work to improve breast health.