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. Data breach exposes 469 Social Security numbers, thousands of concealed weapons holders

    Corporate

    Social Security numbers for up to 469 people and information about thousands of concealed weapons holders were exposed in a data breach at Florida the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. The breach, which the agency believes happened about two weeks ago, occurred in an online payments system, spokesperson …

    Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam on Monday that nearly 500 people may have had their Social Security numbers obtained in a data breach in his office.
[Times file photo]

  2. Trigaux: Can Duke Energy Florida's new chief grow a business when customers use less power?

    Energy

    Let's hope Harry Sideris has a bit of Harry Houdini in him.

    Duke Energy Florida president Harry Sideris laid out his prioriities for the power company ranging from improved customer service to the use of more large-scale solar farms to provide electricity. And he acknowledged a critical challenge: People are using less electricity these days. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
  3. Editorial: Preserve wild Florida before it's too late

    Editorials

    The last dairy farm in Hillsborough County has milked its final cow, the pastures sold to developers who will build 1,000 new homes. The remnants of the last commercial citrus grove in Pinellas County, where the Sunshine State's famed industry began in the 19th century, were sold last year to make room for 136 homes. …

    As dairy farms and citrus groves disappear, much more needs to be done to avoid paving over Florida’s wild spaces.
  4. Florida concealed weapons permit holders exposed in computer hack

    Blogs

    More than 16,000 concealed weapons permit holders in Florida may have had their names accidently made public because of a data breach at the The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

  5. Editorial: Careless words unfit for a mayor

    Editorials

    Even his critics marvel at how well Bob Buckhorn has grown into the job since first being elected as Tampa's mayor in 2011. His grace in public and his knack for saying and doing the right things has reflected well on the city and bestowed civic pride in the mayor's office. That's why Buckhorn's cheap shot at the media …

    Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn fires a .50 caliber machine gun from a rigid hull inflatable boat during a Special Operations Capabilities Demonstration at the Tampa Convention Center last year. [JAMES BORCHUCK   |   Times]