Thermography is an infrared imaging technology used to diagnose breast cancer. Infrared imaging utilizes a special camera called a thermograph to detect light in the infrared range of the electromagnetic spectrum. The infrared light, which the human eye cannot see, is converted into images with the help of a computer.
The amount of infrared light that an object emits increases with heat. This makes it possible to “visualize” an environment that is not illuminated with visible light. For example, you could use thermography to visualize a dog in a completely dark bedroom. The warmest portions of the dog would be converted into shades of white, yellow, orange, or red. The colder portions of the dog would be converted into hues of magenta, purple, or blue. The dark room, assuming that it is not generating heat of its own, would be converted into a deep blue or black mass. The room would have few distinct features because cold objects don’t produce much infrared light.
How Can Thermography Detect Breast Cancer?
Nutrients are delivered to cells via vascular circulation (blood vessels). This circulation generates heat. As a result, the portions of the body that demand the most nutrients give off the most infrared light (heat).
Cancer cells divide quickly, demanding an ever-increase supply of nutrients. The metabolic processes in the body that stimulate vascular development cannot distinguish cancerous cells from healthy cells. This results in an over-development of blood vessels around cancer cells.
The breasts do not generate much heat on their own. Healthy breasts appear purple during a thermographic exam. Red, orange, or yellow structures that appear in the breast during a thermographic exam may indicate the presence of malignant (cancerous) cells.
Is Thermography Used to Detect Other Cancers?
Most of the human body appears bright orange when observed with a thermograph. Since tumors also appear as “hot” colors during thermography, it is difficult to differentiate them from the vast majority of healthy tissues. The breasts, on the other hand, are well suited for thermographic tumor detection because they emit a relatively low amount of infrared light (heat). A “hot” tumor is comparatively easy to visualize against the “cold” tissues of the breast.
Side Effects of Thermography
Thermography appeals to many women because it is virtually free of side effects.
- Thermography is a pain-free exam.
- It is non-invasive, meaning that it does not penetrate or break the skin in any way.
- Thermography does not require the use sedatives, anesthesia, or any other medications.
- You don’t need to observe preparatory measures, such as fasting or liquid-dieting, prior to the exam.
The Effectiveness of Thermography
Studies over the last 20 years have failed to produce any clear evidence supporting the effectiveness of thermography in breast cancer screening. Thermography may help determine whether or not further breast evaluation is necessary, but it cannot confirm the presence of a tumor. Furthermore, a slow-growing breast malignancy might be overlooked during thermographic examination because such a malignancy does not produce much heat. As a result, mammogram, biopsy, and other imaging technologies are generally preferred over thermography.