BREAST SCREENING The development of Thermal Imaging (Thermography)
By Bill Bradford, Meditherm, June 2009
No external test of the breasts is 100% accurate nor can an external test detect breast cancer per se. Indications of breast disease require further tests and the determination of the disease is established in the laboratory.
Mammography, MRI, Thermal Imaging, Ultra-sound, Self Examination, Light test et al, all make a contribution to the campaign to reduce the risks of this dreadful disease. Clinical trials have established the efficacy of many screening protocols and it is wise to use every safe weapon in the medical armoury.
Why is there a Mammography programme for women over 50? 50 was considered the correct age to begin testing for the possibility of the occurrence of breast disease in post menopausal women when breast density is decreasing.
The world moves on.
Since the time Mammography was established as the basic test, other existing systems and subsequent systems have been tested, approved and some have been accepted generally into the medical profession.
Infrared Rays were discovered in 1800 by William Herschel and further developed by his son William Herschel (Jnr) in 1830. Infrared technology languished in the shadows for many years until it was further developed in the 20th Century for security and military applications with Infrared cameras and weapons sighting systems. The entry of Infrared Imaging and detection into the medical fraternity in the second half of the 20th century was met with suspicion by the establishment. Lack of knowledge and experience with medical thermal imaging led to unsubstantiated claims. The systems were complex, slow, and erratic and the users had limited medical knowledge. Subsequently Thermal Imaging once again took a backward step.
Enter the age of faster computers, digitisation and improved thermal cameras that combined to permit the development of faster and more efficient systems. This is an ongoing development. In the last two decades the world has embraced Infrared Thermal Camera technology into many spheres of modern life. Weather forecasting, security & search applications, military uses, industrial uses and in the past 6 years very effectively in entry and exit port controls for febrile travellers (Avian and Swine Flu). The systems were still basically for industrial applications and their use in medical and clinical applications limited. However in the late 80s one company (Meditherm) set out to develop Digital Infrared Thermal Imaging (DITI) systems specifically for the medical profession, for both human and animal applications. In 1982 the FDA registered DITI as an acceptable device for medical use. The NHS requires all equipment used to be in accordance with 2007/47/EC (formerly 93/42/EEC). Meditherm complies with these requirements and all other EEC & USA regulations as well as local regulations in many other countries.
DITI is used extensively worldwide in animal (mainly equine) applications and in human medicine for many medical conditions. DITI is a study of physiology and not of anatomy or structure. DITI will detect inflammatory, vascular, visceral and various pain conditions as an abnormally warm pattern. Neurological dysfunction, compromised immune systems and accident trauma will be indicated as a cooler pattern. All these facilities assist the medical practitioner to more swiftly assess the condition and apply the correct treatment. Furthermore DITI as a non-invasive, pain free, zero radiation and safe modality is ideal for pre & post treatment/surgical use.
The political issues
But when it comes to Breast Screening in the NHS there is a wall of resentment and objection to the use of DITI as an additional tool in the campaign against breast disease. What are the Radiologists and Radiographers afraid of? It is not the intent of DITI to replace other anatomical tests, when and if required. It is admitted by the NHS that Mammography is not a 100% effective breast screening modality and, as I said at the start, there is no system at present that can make this claim. Figures from the NHS and the medical world for the efficacy of Mammography in the 50+ age group of women vary between 45% and 84%. Tests using Mammography + MRI or Mammography + Ultra Sound can improve the detection rate to as high as 90+%. Tests using Thermography + Mammography also produce a 90+% result.
Now move to the 30 50 age group of women where there is an increasing rate of breast disease and very recently even in younger females. It is admitted by the NHS and other institutions that in this group Mammography is less effective due the density of breast tissue. In this age group DITI is consistently 84% effective in the detection of active breast disease. Here the problems start, because if the patient is then tested by Mammography, there can be a negative result because Mammography is less effective for the aforementioned reason. The patient is then told that Thermography is useless and that Thermographers are simply trying to frighten patients. Why would a Thermographer do that? They are not in the business of providing treatment for the condition as the patient is normally referred to their own healthcare provider for ongoing attention. Worryingly, 4 5 years later most of these untreated patients present with a positive test in the same area of the breast that DITI had previously indicated.
There have been many clinical trials using DITI for breast screening as an adjunctive test. DITI has been noted as detecting active breast disease as much as 8 10 years before anatomical tests. This permits earlier, less invasive and less aggressive treatment, something the UK health authorities are constantly arguing in favour of!
Furthermore DITI can be used as often as is required post treatment without exposure to excessive radiation. If the disease has reached the level when it is visible by anatomical systems it has been developing for some time and the next step is to introduce invasive treatment, biopsies, surgery, Chemotherapy, radiotherapy and pharmaceuticals. Enter the pharmaceutical companies and their products. No need for other actions like more DITI.
Special Benefits of Thermal Imaging (Thermography)
Whilst considering this matter lets not forget a few special benefits of DITI. Mammography, along with other anatomical tests, has a valuable place in the fight against breast cancer. For the Mammography test women have their breasts clamped between two plates. The radiation about which there is a frenetic debate still being waged - passes through the breast tissue lying between the two plates. However, any abnormal activity related to breast disease that is outside the borders of the breast/s between the plates will be missed. And this is a huge issue. For example:
Then there are other issues:
- Abnormal Lymph, Thyroid, Carotid, Brachial and other conditions in the whole of the chest area including the breasts will be missed. Brachial conditions often indicate the onset of neovascular activity that relate to the development of blood vessels to feed tumours. This is a valuable early pointer to breast disease and thus can be dealt with much sooner. DITI can pick all this up.
- Some breast conditions are not visible to the Mammography test e.g. Inflammatory Breast disease which grows in sheets across the skin surface. Early detection of this physiological condition is essential as it is a serious and fast developing cancer.
- Small breasted women have a real problem with Mammograms
- Whilst less than 1% of breast cancers are found in male patients, mammography has problems in screening men
- Women with breast implants need very special care with mammography
- Post-mastectomy screening in more difficult with mammography
DITI is a very suitable tool for these types of screening
DITI is also effective in all age groups and to repeat DITI is
- Safe and radiation free.
- With no side effects
The nay-sayers allege that DITI Thermographers are just in it for the money and require patients to attend every 90 days. This is misinformation put out to discredit the practice. All women have a unique
thermal breast pattern (a fingerprint if you like) which is only altered by pathology. When a patient presents for a breast study she will receive the usual medical protocol of consultation and specific clinical practice before the screening takes place. This set of images will be assessed and reported on by a Medical Doctor Thermologist. At this stage it will not be known if this is the normal or abnormal thermal pattern for the patient. It is known that the usual cell doubling rate is 80 days therefore the patient will present 90 days later for a repeat study. These two sets of images are compared and provided there are no changes in the thermal pattern this will establish a reliable baseline for future comparison. Thereafter the patient only attends for an annual study. If there were any relevant or suspicious changes the next step would be recommended the Doctor is in charge. Equally if a very obvious or suspicious pattern was noted on the initial first visit this too would be referred for further attention without waiting for the 90-day follow up study. On rare occasions some patients are recalled for a 180 day interim test if after the 90-day test the results are inconclusive. Healthy women can then continue with a DITI programme having an annual test until and if any change takes place that calls for further investigation.
Thermography on the NHS?
The politics of breast screening are immense.
The good news is that the NHS has just announced that it will approve the use of Acupuncture and Osteopathy treatments, providing perhaps a glimmer of hope for other practices. On a recent TV programme Operation Live the surgeon said, We are always open to new technologies and the patient (Reflux Hiatus Hernia) would never have benefitted from a prolonged pharmaceutical regime. This is a rare comment in our experience.
There is a much more usual routine: For example, despite the death from breast cancer of a notable media correspondent, her own employer/newspaper would not print information about DITI that, if applied to her earlier, could probably have saved her life. The comment was that, It (DITI) was too safe & benign. What can we conclude from this statement? Perhaps only, if you have any gory clinical reports that would be better. Because if it bleeds, it reads! Not interested to help others, just to sell newspapers. Or am I being too cynical?
We have had an increasing number of patients referred to us by NHS consultants for pain assessments so what is the problem with the Breast Screening service of the NHS? All that is needed is that the establishment recognises that DITI has a role in the detection of breast disease for all ages of women. Meditherm is not reliant on the provision of DITI systems to the NHS for its continuing success as the world leader in medical infrared thermal imaging systems. Women are entitled to know that there are choices that they can make about breast screening, albeit they will have to pay for it themselves. However, the average fee for an annual breast study is less than the cost of a cup of coffee a week throughout the year.
Early detection of an abnormal breast condition can justify changes in lifestyle and diet amongst others that could reverse the development of the disease. This is exactly what the NHS claims to want when it encourages earlier detection and claims that screening saves lives. Regular monitoring of the condition will thereafter indicate what further action might be required.
There are currently 10 operational Meditherm equipped clinics in the UK with more coming on line and there are a few other clinics offering a Thermography service. Meditherm has been established in the UK for over 10 years. Check out the website www.meditherm.com where there is a great deal of information. Also www.canceractive.com the article Mammograms The truth comes to the big screen.
More informed Choices
Now is the time for women to take control of their own lives. Check out all the options and make an educated decision.
But beware. Any DITI practice that alleges that it can detect cancer by Thermography is to be avoided and reported.
If you take a Thermography report to your doctor who dismisses it, probably because he/she knows little or nothing about Thermal Imaging, ask him to place a copy of the report on your medical records and then advise that you will take further advice. The reporting doctor on the DITI report is always prepared to speak directly with your own healthcare provider. The lack of knowledge by your own doctor does not make the test invalid. They need to be alerted to the facts, but the establishment makes it very difficult for them so they will have to be courageous.
In the political climate today, all the establishment organisations are in disarray. Who can take their word as the truth? The icon Magazine has not been afraid to speak out against narrow minded and restrictive attitudes in the medical profession. Now is the time for everyone to review many medical myths, to start asking questions and to demand straight answers. Nowhere is this more true than with the subject of Breast Cancer Screening.