Thermography, when used in a clinical setting, is a diagnostic imaging procedure that detects, records, and produces an image (thermogram) of a patient’s skin surface temperatures and/or thermal patterns. The procedure uses equipment that can provide both qualitative and quantitative representations of these temperature patterns.
Standardized interpretation guidelines in thermal breast imaging have been utilized since the adoption of the 20 point TH interpretation and classification system in the early 1980’s. This system has been continually updated as ongoing research has dictated. Many large-scale studies performed over the last three decades, encompassing well over 300,000 women participants, confirm the objectivity and accuracy of this interpretation and classification system. This system of interpretation is the most up-to-date method for use in the qualitative and quantitative analysis of thermal breast images. The 20 point TH interpretation and classification system is the accepted standard in thermal breast imaging analysis.
Thermography has been proposed as an alternative method of breast cancer screening. Currently, the gold standard for breast cancer screening is mammography; therefore, sensitivities, specificities, and positive and negative predictive values of thermography need to be compared against those of mammography in order to evaluate whether or not thermography is equivalent or superior to mammography. There are no published studies in the peer-reviewed scientific literature comparing the two screening techniques. Furthermore, there are no national published evidence-based practice guidelines which endorse thermography as the appropriate method of screening for early detection of breast cancer.
Thermography has been approved for this purpose for many years by the US FDA (United States Food and Drug Administration). Breast thermography is very accurate, but only in the hands of trained personnel using the correct type of thermography cameras. The accuracy of the examination varies around the world but varies from 87%-96% depending on old the literature is. Over 800 peer-reviewed studies on breast thermography exist in the index medicus literature. In this database, well over 300,000 women have been included as study participants. The numbers of participants in many studies are very large (10,000, 37,000, 60,000, 85,000, etc.) Some of these studies have followed patients for up to 12 years. These studies, however, were not definitive and many were poorly designed and hard to interpret. They showed, using mammography as the gold-standard comparison, that thermography was very sensitive but had many false positives.
Unfortunately, early enthisiasm let to widepread adoption of thermography not only in breast cancer deteection but also by chropractics and non-allopathic practitioners. Many did not have the appropriate training or experience. Farther study of this new technique diminshed in the late 1980′s.
Moskowitz M. Thermography as a risk indicator of breast cancer. Results of a study and a review of the recent literature. Journal of Reproductive
BC guidelines - BC Cancer Agency (http://www.bccancer.bc.ca).
International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Breast Cancer Screening. 1st ed. Lyon, France: IARC Press, 2002.
Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Radiologists Breast Imaging Reference Group policy on the use of thermography to detect breast
cancer 2001. http://www.ranzcr.edu.au/open/policies/diagnostic_imaging/pol7_3.htm
American Medical Association thermography update H-175.988: AMA Policy Finder undated.