Thermography may help catch cancer earlier

Posted: Updated:
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver

PHOENIX -- We all know the importance of catching cancer early, and for breast cancer, mammography is the most widely used test to detect tumors.   

But some women are using another test in hopes of catching problems even earlier. It is a test that relies on heat to detect changes, and it all starts with pictures from a specialized camera.

Pam Mathews is a clinical thermographer. She utilizes a specialized camera that uses heat to look for problems.

”Inflammation is the beginning of any disease,” Mathews said, “so if it picks up inflammation, it is going to show up on the scan as red.”

And when it comes to searching for cancer, heat could provide a clue, says Dr. Ronald Peters at Mind Body Medicine Center.

“So it is capable of picking up inflammation. It is capable of picking up very tiny clusters of cancer cells that have created a blood supply," he said.

A thermography itself is not a diagnosis of cancer. What doctors look for are differences between the breasts and changes over time.

“If it gets bigger over time, then they are referred to a mammography or some other breast diagnosis,“ Peters explained.

But he says early detection of inflammation gives people more power to tackle problems early.

“They can improve their diet. They can take anti-inflammatories. There are many natural anti-inflammatories. They can exercise more," Peters said.

He says sometimes that alone will solve whatever was causing the inflammation and possible cancers. One study published several years ago showed that 20 percent of breast cancer comes and goes on its own.”

And Mathews says it is also an alternative for some women who have trouble with mammograms.

“It is particularly good for people with dense breast tissue or with implants or with fibrocystic disease," he said.

And again, while thermography alone cannot diagnose cancer, Peters believes it is a valuable tool for doctors and patients alike.

”It gives them information much earlier when they can do something about it," he said.

Some insurance companies are starting to cover thermography. Mathews charges $195 for a breast scan and $150 for followups.

And while not all doctors are convinced thermography is effective, Peters believes it is an excellent tool to help catch possible cancers early.