What is the best option?


Concerns over breast cancer have crossed all of our minds, especially if you are a woman, at least once in our lives.
We are constantly bombarded by images of women fighting breast cancer, pleas for donations by various organizations to combat the disease and have a whole month devoted to it stomping it out of existence. But what, if any, strides have truly been made to aid early detection or dare I say, prevent, this horrible disease in the past 10, 20 or even 30 years? It seems the medical community’s answer has been mammograms. Mammograms, mammograms, mammograms. But do they really aid in early detection? They certainly aren’t preventative and may even increase the risk of developing breast cancer if some claims can be believed.

The fact of the matter is that mammography is a study of anatomy.
It looks at breast structure. When a tumor has grown large enough (about 4 billion cells) and dense enough to block an x-ray beam, it produces an image on the x-ray plate and therefore can be detected by the radiologist. It takes years for a tumor to grow, so no, mammograms cannot aid in early detection.

Thermography on the other hand, is a test of physiology.
It does not look at anatomy or structure, it reads infra-red heat radiating from the surface of the body. The first use of thermography came in 1957 when R. Lawson discovered that skin temperature over a cancer in the breast was higher than that of normal tissue. Cancer cells produce something called angioneogenic factors which aid in establishing blood flow to the tumor. Increased blood flow means increased heat.
Researchers have been searching for decades for a tool that can identify breast cancer quickly and reliably. The earlier the indication of abnormality, the earlier the intervention and treatment, leading to better outcomes. The issue is that neither mammography nor thermography can diagnose breast cancer. They are simply diagnostic tests that show a possible disease process and initiate further exploration.
Studies on Thermography
A large number of studies conducted on thousands of women around the world have proven thermography’s role in the early detection and monitoring of abnormal breast physiology and the establishment of risk factors that may lead to the development or existence of cancer.
  • In the US, William Hobbins, MD, established in a study looking at 37,050 women, a yield of 56 cancers per 1000 thermograms. This is compared to the BCDDP studies which yielded 5.6 cancers per 1000 mammograms.
  • A large study in France found 73% accuracy in the diagnosis of 486 breast cancer patients using thermography.
  • Worldwide retrospective studies have found thermograms were positive in a minimum of 71% and maximum of 93% of patients with breast cancer. An abnormal thermogram is 10 times more significant as a future risk indicator for breast cancer than first order family history of the disease. A persistent abnormal thermogram carries with it a 22x higher risk of future breast cancer.

That all being said, mammograms and thermograms are not antagonistic. They are looking at structure and function, respectively. It’s comparing apples to oranges. They are not competitive procedures and it is the untrained clinician that views them as such. The procedures should be viewed as complementary and every woman should have both procedures yearly. As always, a combination of complementary and conventional medicine provides the best outcomes for the health of the patient. Because physiologic changes always predate structural changes, thermography has great potential for earlier detection of the disease.

Thermography has undergone extensive research since the 1950’s and the FDA approved thermography as an adjunctive diagnostic breast cancer screening procedure in 1982. So again, the best aids we have currently available to us in the early detection of this disease are a combination of mammography and thermography yearly. And even more importantly, working with your physician on changing risk factors regarding lifestyle that can lead to the increased risk of developing breast cancer and therefore preventing the disease. What a concept. The research showing that thermography in combination with mammography aids in much greater sensitivity and detection of possible breast cancer has been there for over half a century.

So why isn’t our health insurance paying for the procedure?
Why don’t we see constant commercials to get our routine mammogram and thermogram every year? Good questions that I don’t know how to answer. It is unconscionable that women are prevented from having this possibly life saving diagnostic procedure because they can’t afford to pay out of pocket for it. It’s time for us to be proactive ladies. We need to demand that we have access to the best possible diagnostic procedures for the early detection of this awful disease. Many foundations and organizations have been obtaining and spending billions looking for a cure and in all this time, they are not even close.

Dr. Alycia Policani graduated from Eastern Washington University in 1996, with a B.S. in Human Biology and went on to National College of Naturopathic Medicine, where she achieved her doctorate in Naturopathic Medicine in 2000. She has ten years of experience in private practice as sole proprietor of Evergreen Naturopathic. Dr. Policani practices as a primary care physician with emphasis on women’s health, menopause, and thyroid disease; using science based natural medicine. Dr. Policani grew up in Spokane, pursuing many outdoor activities that allowed her to develop a deep appreciation for nature, ultimately leading her down the path to naturopathic medicine. When she is not at the office you can find her horseback riding, gardening, hiking or traveling with her husband and son.