Breast Thermography: Procedure, Risks, Cost, and More

What Is Breast Thermography?

Thermography is a test that detects heat patterns and blood flow in body tissues using an infrared camera.

Digital infrared thermal imaging (DITI) or Breast Thermography is the type of thermography that is used to diagnose breast cancer. This is done when DITI reveals temperature differences on the surface of breasts.

The aim of this test is that cells need blood that’s rich in oxygen in order to grow. When blood that flows to the tumor increases, the temperature around it escalates.

Unlike mammography, thermography does not give off radiation as it doesn’t use low-dose X-rays to take pictures from inside the breasts. However, DITI isn’t as effective in detecting breast cancer as mammography.

Is DITI A Substitute Of Mammogram?

Thermography has been in use for more than 60 years. It initially caught the attention of the medical community as a potential screening tool, but in the 70s, a study called the Breast Cancer Detection Demonstration Project revealed that thermography was far less sensitive than mammography in identifying cancer, and interest in it was gone.

Breast Thermography isn’t actually an alternative to mammography. Studies later found that it wasn’t very sensitive to picking up breast cancer. Also, it has a high false-positive rate in that it “finds” cancerous cells when there aren’t, to begin with.

And in those women who have been diagnosed with cancer, the test is ineffective at confirming these results. According to a 1990 study that involved more than 10,000 women, 72% of those who developed breast cancer had had a normal thermogram result.

The only problem with this test, however, was that it had trouble differentiating the causes of increased heat. Although warm areas can indicate breast cancer, that also indicates non-cancerous diseases such as mastitis.

Mammography can also have false-positive results, and at times, may even miss breast cancers. Nevertheless, it is still the most effective procedure for diagnosing breast cancer early.

Who Should Get A Thermogram?

Thermogram has proven to be a more effective screening test for women under 50 and those with dense breasts. Mammograms, on the other hand, are not as sensitive in both of these groups.

The only downside is that thermography is not very good at detecting breast cancer on its own, which is why experts advise it should not be used as an alternative to mammography. The FDA suggests that women opt for thermography as an add-on to mammograms for diagnosing breast cancer.

What To Do During Procedure?

You may likely be asked to avoid wearing deodorant on the day of the exam.

You will need to first undress from the waist up to help your body adapt to the temperature of the room. Then you will be asked to stand in front of the imaging system. A technician will take about six images of your breasts, including the front and the side views. The test lasts over 30 minutes.

Then the doctor analyzes the images, and you will receive the results in a few days.

Likely Side-Effects And Risks

Thermography is a non-invasive test that takes images of your breasts using an infrared camera. The positive sides to the test include no compression of breasts, no exposure to radiation, and no real risks associated with the tests.

Even though thermography is safe, there is no evidence to suggest that it is effective. Because the test has a high false-positive rate, it sometimes finds cancer when there really isn’t. Also, the test isn’t as sensitive as mammography in picking up breast cancer early.

How Much Does It Cost?

The cost of a breast thermogram varies from center to center, with the average cost being around $150-200.

Medicare doesn’t cover the cost of thermography, but some private health insurance plans can help cover part or all of the cost.

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