squishing and x-raying your breasts is probably not your idea of a good time. What a drag mammograms are. This test for breast cancer not only exposes tissue to radiation, but is also the source of a blizzard of controversy over whether it saves lives or not.Still, there aren't many options if you're under 50 and your doctor orders a mammogram because he/she suspects something. Just remember that the overwhelming majority of lumps are benign. If you're over 50 or have fibrocystic (lumpy) breasts, the medical profession will likely direct you to get screened every other year.
This is truly a pain, which is why it's interesting to consider the benefits of another screening process -- not, and I repeat, not, as an alternative to mammograms but as an adjunct. It's called thermography, a process that measures the temperature of tissue with extreme accuracy. Since its crude beginnings in the 1950s, thermography has come to be considered an extremely precise technology by many, though not all, in the alt health world. One preliminary study indicates that it can help distinguish between benign and cancerous lumps.
The underlying idea is simple. Cancers secrete substances that stimulate the growth of new capillaries, in effect creating their own blood supply. Blood circulation is normally under the control of the sympathetic nervous system, but the blood vessels built by cancers operate independently.
In thermographic screening, a woman is exposed to cold of some kind. The sympathetic nervous system responds by shunting blood to the body's core to keep organs warm. Outer tissues cool down. A cancer, however, keeps pulling in its regular amount of blood. As a result, the area around it stays warm and shows up as a hot spot on the thermogram. Fine-needle aspiration or biopsy is needed to confirm a diagnosis. (A small percentage of cancers are cold; these too, show up on thermograms.)
Some women are choosing to use thermography as an annual screening tool. For this, they have to move outside the OHIP-sponsored system. There's a possibility, say some proponents, that a thermogram could pick up cancerous changes too small for a mammogram to detect. In this case, it may be helpful to find a doctor willing to cooperate with a naturopath. While holistic methods of reversing cancer aren't well studied, they are worth a try early in the game.
Your doctor can make sure you continue to be properly monitored while you work toward restoring your thermogram to normal. Remember, a mammogram can pick up stuff that a thermogram can't, and vice versa. And don't get a thermogram without first checking out www.iact-org.org.EXPERTS "There was a flurry of interest in thermography in the 1980s because people were very afraid of radiation at that point, but it was quite persuasively concluded that it had no role in screening. It could be useful, however, for monitoring women with diagnosed breast cancer to look for recurrences. I have done 30,000 mammograms, and I know early detection is achieved. But it's increasingly dubious that it works for women under 55.'
CORNELIA BAINES, MD, department of public health sciences, U of T, co-investigator, Canadian National Breast Screening Study
"I think thermography has unfortunately been underutilized by physicians. They either have no knowledge or old knowledge. In the last 10 years, the technology has excelled."
CLAUDIA BARRINGTON, Florida-based RN, clinical thermographer
"All my patients have had annual thermograms, and every five years we get a baseline mammogram. Less than 8 per cent of cancers will have a normal thermogram. With the hundreds of patients we've had, we've had no clinical failures. A positive thermogram is the highest risk indicator for the possibility of a breast cancer we have today."
WILLIAM B. HOBBINS, Wisconsin-based MD, holistic physician
"Thermography is about 83 per cent accurate, mammography, about 84 per cent. The two together are 95 per cent accurate. Thermography is a great screening tool for women to use annually who don't suspect breast cancer or don't have a palpable lump. If there is a palpable lump, this test needs to be backed up with something else. The advantage of thermography is that it can show functional changes earlier than mammography. If you're a naturopath, you can work with this to start reversing the disease process."
SAT DHARAM KAUR, naturopath, author of The Healthy Breast Program & Workbook
"One thing you can't do with thermal imaging is localize a tumour's position. You want to integrate it with mammography. One of the reasons early investigators of thermal imaging found the technology inconclusive was because often you'd be able to detect a tumour very early in its growth pattern, and the mammography of the time couldn't detect it. But as they followed women, they realized thermal imaging had achieved early detection.'
JOHN OTT, VP of marketing, Computerized Thermal Imaging