In the past 50 years, the risk of breast cancer has more than tripled in the United States alone, from 1 in 22 to 1 in 8, according to the National Cancer Institute. With this dramatic rise in breast cancer, the need for prevention and early detection has never been greater.
In previous articles, we have discussed prevention. This article’s focus is on early detection.
Last week the American Cancer Society published new recommendations in the Journal of the American Medical Association for mammogram screenings. The new guidelines for women of “average risk” of breast cancer is to begin mammogram screening at age 45, with yearly follow-ups until the age of 55, and then start having them every other year. This is a change from the previous recommendations of screenings beginning at age 40 and every year thereafter. So why the change?
To begin, mammograms have a high rate of false positives, up to six percent. This leads to more costly and invasive testing such as biopsies, not to mention the stress and anxiety a women feels from a wrongful cancer diagnosis. In a September 2010 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, a study published to examine the effectiveness of mammograms found that mammograms seem to have reduced cancer death rates by only 0.4 deaths per 1,000 women
Additionally, mammograms use ionizing radiation at relatively hight doses. You can get as much radiation exposure from one mammogram as you would from 1,000 chest x-rays. Breast tissue, especially premenopausal tissue are very sensitive to radiation. Unnecessary mammogram screening can resulting in as much as a 10% increase in risk of breast cancer for each breast over a 10 year period according to one of the world’s leading cancer experts Dr. Samuel Epstein.
Luckily there is a safer and more effective way to screen for breast cancer, Infrared thermography. Thermography is the use of a special camera that detects heat radiating from the body. Cancer tumors have an increased blood supply. More blood means more heat. When used to assess breast tissue, thermography can identify areas of excess heat years before a density can be identified by mammography. Abnormalities can be identified at least seven years before the changes can be detected on a mammogram. A summary of more than 800 peer-reviewed studies on breast thermography showed an average sensitivity and specificity of 90% for detecting early changes in the breast that can possibly lead to cancer.
Additional studies found that an abnormal infrared image is the single most important marker of high risk for developing breast cancer, 10 times more significant than a family history of the disease.
When combined with a more conservative mammography schedule, thermography can provide a safe and effective screening tool. In honor of Breast cancer Awareness month, I encourage you to learn more about thermography for yourself and your loved ones.