Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Despite hype, breast thermography is no replacement for mammogram

If the Internet buzz about a pain-free, radiation-free alternative to mammography sounds too good to be true, there's a reason for that.

Breast thermography — recently touted in the Huffington Post as the "best breast test" by Oprah favorite Dr. Christiane Northrup — has not been proven effective for routine breast cancer screening in a large-scale, randomized study, experts say. The FDA has not approved it for that purpose and in 2009 issued a warning letter accusing an Idaho health care provider of marketing thermography as a mammogram replacement.

"The bottom line is that the proven technology for screening for breast cancer is X-ray or digital mammography. And that is the only proven technology," says Robert Smith, director of cancer screening for the American Cancer Society.

Northrup, who wrote in the Huffington Post that "many (doctors) believe that a mammogram is the best test for detecting breast cancer early . . . but it's not," responded to a request for comment with an e-mail saying, in part, "Thermography has been shown to pick up abnormalities in the heat in the breast many years before a lesion would likely show up in a mammogram. The ideal is to use both technologies when appropriate."

Breast thermography uses infrared cameras to detect subtle heat elevation associated with tumors, which tend to have more blood flow and higher metabolic rates than normal tissue. Considered promising in the 1960s, thermography fell out of favor with doctors in the '70s when a large study found it detected only 39 percent of breast cancers, while mammography picked up 78 percent.

Thermography advocates argue that the technology has improved vastly since then.

A small study of thermography as a supplement to mammography, published in the American Journal of Surgery in 2008, found it has an impressive 97 percent sensitivity rate, meaning it correctly identified 97 percent of the women who had cancer. Unfortunately, its specificity rate, the proportion of women correctly identified by the test as not having cancer, was a disappointing 44 percent. (Mammography has a sensitivity rate ranging from 77 to 95 percent and a specificity rate from 94 to 97 percent.)

In a 2009 commentary in Minnesota Medicine, Gregory Plotnikoff and Carolyn Torkelson wrote that thermography holds promise as a supplement to mammography — it's FDA approved for that — and called for more study. But they raised concerns that some consumers may think of it as mammogram replacement, which "could raise public-safety issues." And they noted thermography is a fragmented industry with no widely accepted professional standards.

Despite hype, breast thermography is no replacement for mammogram 12/08/10 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 1:39pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Chicago Tribune.
    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Forecast: First day of fall brings more showers, humidity to Tampa Bay

    Weather

    More moisture will filter into the Tampa Bay area on Friday, the official start of fall, allowing for higher rain chances through the day and beginning half of the weekend.

    Tampa Bay's 7 day forecast. [WTSP]
  2. Polk childcare workers who berated autistic child turn themselves in (w/video)

    Crime

    WINTER HAVEN — Two childcare workers are facing child abuse charges after a Snapchat video surfaced of them berating, taunting and throwing a backpack at an 8-year-old autistic child.

    Police are searching for two childcare workers - Kaderrica Smith, 26, and Alexis Henderson, 20 - after a Snapchat video surfaced of them berating, taunting and throwing a backpack at an 8-year-old Autistic child in Winter Haven. [Winter Haven Police Department]
  3. Trigaux: Tampa Bay household income tops $50,000 but still makes us look poor

    Personal Finance

    The good news is Tampa Bay's median household income finally crawled above $50,000 last year. The bad news is that figure — officially $51,115 by new U.S. Census Bureau data — still puts the Tampa Bay region as the poorest of the nation's 25 largest metro areas.

    Tampa Bay still has the lowest median household income among the 25 most populous metro areas, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.
[Times]
  4. Oh, Florida! Irma's gone, but she left behind plenty of lessons for us

    Columns

    I don't want to make light of the misery and death that Hurricane Irma inflicted on Florida this month. A lot of it was ugly, and some of it was downright criminal. We saw greed and pettiness on …

    A Fort Myers woman who'd recently undergone a double-organ transplant painted a sign that said, "HOT SINGLE FEMALE SEEKS SEXY LINEMAN TO ELECTRIFY HER LIFE" and sure enough, she got her power turned back on. [Photo from video]
  5. Florida education news: Makeup days, accountability, charter schools and more

    Blogs

    MAKEUP DAYS: The Pasco County school district alters the daily schedule of 11 schools to make up teaching time missed because of Hurricane Irma, avoiding the …

    With students back in school after Hurricane Irma, schools across Florida begin scheduling makeup days for missed classroom time.