Mammograms & Thermography — Panel’s recommendation has merit.
The two techniques look at different things. Thermography looks at abnormal blood vessel formation, which is an early event in the life of a cancer. Mammography looks at masses (1 centimeter or larger) and calcification patterns, which are later developments.
Each has reliability in the recent literature of around 88 percent to 96 percent. Each misses tumors picked up by the other (perhaps as many as 10 percent). Mammography cannot visualize tiny tumors with new vessels, which show up on thermography. Conversely, tumors large enough to show up on mammography don’t always have thermographically abnormal vessels.
So, each technique is weak where the other is strong. The techniques are complementary. It is not a case of either one or the other.
One of the reasons for moving the starting age to 50 for mammograms was the vast number of negative breast biopsies for calcifications. I suspect, in my personal experience, I did 20 benign biopsies for calcification for every cancer we picked up. That is way too many, but abnormal calcifications are pretty common — and frequently benign.
Personally, I think the most prudent course for a woman to take is to get a baseline mammogram somewhere between the age of 40 and 50 (unless she has a high-risk family history, in which case earlier is better) to be reasonably sure larger lumps are not seen, and get a baseline thermography to look for early blood-vessel formation.
If both are negative, then follow with annual thermography looking for new vessel formation, with mammography every few years to look for solid lumps. Less frequent mammography means less radiation and mechanical pressure.
That regimen allows a woman to take advantage of the strengths of each technique without undue risks from radiation or unnecessary biopsy and, it seems to me, to maximize cost-benefit considerations.
— Robin A. Bernhoft, M.D., practices medical toxicology in Ojai.