We are routinely bombarded with the doctrines of breast cancer screening as the sole breast health management approach. This amounts to two techniques: Self Breast Exam (SBE) and Mammography.
Amazingly, the only widely acknowledged cause of breast cancer is radiation exposure. It is one of four cancers directly linked with radiation exposure (the other three: leukemia, thyroid and brain cancers).
Yet millions of well-intentioned women who genuinely care about their health submit their breasts regularly to mammography--a breast x-ray. When this is done yearly, over a period of a decade or more, do you know how many rads of radiation this is?
Consider that before any x-ray, women are asked if there is a chance they could be pregnant. At the dentist office, we are always fitted with a lead apron to protect us from radiation in unwanted areas. If our breasts are nearly as sensitive to radiation as a fetus, why does mainstream breast healthcare prioritize the use of x-rays to screen breasts? Cha-ching. You guessed it.
Unfortunatley, most women hear only about the benefits of mammograms, and few realize that doctors have been hotly debating their use for more than a decade, says Steve Woloshin, a physician at the Veterans Affairs Outcomes Group in White River Junction, Vt.
In 1974, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) was warned by professor Malcolm C. Pike at the University of Southern California School of Medicine that a number of specialists had concluded that “giving a woman under age 50 a mammogram on a routine basis is close to unethical.”
In the 1990’s, Dr. Samuel Epstein started warning people about the dangers of mammography, stating:
“The premenopausal breast is highly sensitive to radiation, each 1 rad exposure increasing breast cancer risk by about 1 percent, with a cumulative 10 percent increased risk for each breast over a decade’s screening… The high sensitivity of the breast, especially in young women, to radiation-induced cancer was known by 1970. Nevertheless, the establishment then screened some 300,000 women with X-ray dosages so high as to increase breast cancer risk by up to 20 percent in women aged 40 to 50 who were mammogramed annually.”
This isn't to say mammography hasn't detected cancers and helped women get treatment. However, because the healthcare industry so vehemently markets mammography, there has been little or no promotion of other, less invasive and less harmful methods of breast health screening.
Understanding How Mammography Works
Mammography is used to find structural tissue abnormalities. In order for x-rays to "see" a structure, that structure must be dense enough, and in the case of tumors, progressed enough (large enough), for the radiation to be blocked, thereby appearing as a concentrated white area. Unfortuntaely, it can take up to a decade of growth for a tumor, mass or lump to be detected using this technology. To put this into persepctive, note the average (non-aggressive) cancer cell growth rate chart shared by my breast-health mentor Cheryl Chapman, RN:
addition year for that tumor to become a palpable lump. This means the two classic breast cancer screening methods of Self Breast Exam (SBE), and Mammography, are not early detection.
In addition, if you have dense, fibrous breasts, not only does that make self breast exam confusing ("My breasts are always full of lumps, how do I tell the difference?"), but it is well acknowledged that dense breasts limit what a mammogram can see. Upwards of eighty percent of women have dense breasts.
New legislation, in as many as 28 US states, now requires doctors to inform women of the limitations of mammography for dense breasts. The surprisingly controversial law, having to do with a woman’s right to know if her mammogram result is unclear, acknowledges that dense breast tissue makes it harder to identify cancer on a mammogram.
Cheryl impresses upon her students that the average growth rate for cancer cells is 100 days. That means a single cancer cell becomes two cancer cells in 200 days, 4 cancer cells in 300 days, 8 cancer cells in 400 day, and so on, doubling accordingly until, after about 9 years, it becomes visible on a mammogram. Note that it can take an
Beyond SBE & Mammography
Fortunately, there are more loving approaches to breast health screening. Two of our favorites: Daily Self Breast Massage and Digital Infrared Thermal Imaging (DITI), aka Thermography Screening.
Daily Self Breast Massage allows a women to become more familar with her breasts in a loving way. Rather than touching our breasts with fear of finding a tumor, breast massage offers nourishing and protective lymph movement, simultaneously helping us cultivate a loving relationship to how our breasts feel throughout our life, and throughout the month during our menstruating years.
Thermographic Screening is safe and non-invasive (i.e., touch and radiation-free), pain free, FDA approved and endorsed by the American Breast Cancer Foundation. Thermal Imaging is subtle, creating a metabolic heat “map” of your breast tissue, thereby disclosing the earliest tissue changes. Perhaps most importantly, thermography can detect the most aggressive form of breast cancer–inflammatory breast cancer –which mammography cannot. To boot, asking for thermal imaging promotes the awareness and demand for healthier, smarter breast screening choices in our health institutions.
A new study conducted by Peter C Gøtzsche, of the Nordic Cochrane Centre, published September, 2015 in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine and titled "Mammography screening is harmful and should be abandoned," strikes to the heart of the matter. The actual effect of decades of screening has not been to reduce breast cancer specific mortality, despite the generation of millions of new so-called "early stage" or "stage zero" breast cancer diagnoses.
Previous investigation on the subject by Gotzsche resulted in the discovery that overdiagnosis occurs in a staggering 52% of patients offered organized mammography screening, which equates to "one in three breast cancers being overdiagnosed." The problem with overdiagnosis is that it almost always goes unrecognized. This then results in overtreatment with aggressive interventions such as lumpectomy, mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation. Some of these treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation, can actually enrich cancer stem cells within tumors, essentially altering cells from benign to malignant, or transforming already cancerous cells into far deadlier phenotypes.
Other recent research has determined that the past 30 years of breast cancer screening has lead to the overdiagnosis and overtreatment of about 1.3 million U.S. women, i.e. tumors were detected on screening that would never have led to clinical symptoms, and should never have been termed "cancers" in the first place.
Thus, the context is clear. Thermal Imaging is crucial to offering women a safe alternative to mammography, to track and monitor their breast health without radiation.
There are many conditons that can set the stage for more serious breast disease. Many of those conditions can been seen via Thermal Imaging long before cancerous tumors develop. In other words, there is a wide window of opportunity for women to prevent breast cancer, if only they had the right knowlege and tools!
This means changes in your breast health can often be seen in as little as three months time--with the right technology. Whereas common imaging such as CT, X-ray, Ultrasound and MRI look for changes in structure, Thermal Imaging detects the thermal emissions of the body's physiology, or function. Specific for breast health, a three-month interval is used in Thermal Imaging to establish your all-important baseline reading.
Importance of Your 3-Month Baseline Reading
The 3-month baseline relates to the period of time it takes for blood vessels to show change. Once a cancerous tumor reaches a critical size (about the size of a grain of sugar), it has the ability to cause angiogenesis. This means the cancer cell releases chemical signals to cause new blood vessels to grow, feeding the tumor. Thermal Imaging easily shows increases and decreases in blood flow.
With respect to Thermography screening, a period of time less than three months may miss significant change, as can a period of time much more than three months miss significant change that may have already taken place. There is simply no substitute for establishing an accurate baseline. A single Thermal Imaging study cannot do this. Once you establish your baseline, then an annual thermogram is all that's needed.
This baseline represents your unique thermal fingerprint, which will only be altered by developing pathology, or more happily, improvements in your breast health! Side bar: it's very cool that improvements in breast health can be charted with Thermography. I've seen it in my own scans.
Check this out. The images below were taken approximately one week to ten days apart at West Coast Thermography in the San Diego area. This woman had invasive ductal carcinoma. The imaging began with the top left image taken on 3/16/12, and continued right until the last image on the bottom right was taken on 5/8/12. What a short period of time to see so much change, and what a relief for her to see her progress!
“Radiation from a mammogram is 1000 times greater than that from a chest x-ray. It accumulates over time, with ten x-rays increasing your breast cancer risk by 10%. Mechanical compression of your breast – as well as a biopsy – can dislocate and spread existing malignant cells. A breast cancer growth has grown for 7-8 years and reached 4-10 billion cells before a mammogram can detect it. This is not early detection!”
The Safe Breast Cancer Screening Your Doctor Isn't Telling You About,
Journal of Surgical Oncology.
1997, 65(4), 284-97.
Thermography can give you a head’s up on the most aggressive form of breast cancer–inflammatory breast cancer (image below)–which cannot be detected with mammography.
Click to enlarge slide show
At a typical thermal imaging session, you will remove clothing and jewelry in the area to be scanned. You'll put on a gown that will be supplied, fill out some paperwork while your surface skin temperature adjusts or cools down. When the technician returns, she will have you disrobe the area to be scanned and you'll sit across from the special thermal imaging camera. Without touching you, the camera will record your unique metabolic pattern. All patients thermograms (breast images) are kept on record for the doctors to compare, and form a baseline for all future routine evaluations.
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Once a cancerous tumor reaches a critical size (about the size of a grain of sugar), it has the ability to cause angiogenesis. This means the cancer cell releases chemical signals to cause new blood vessels to grow, feeding the tumor. Thermal Imaging easily shows increases and decreases in blood flow at the earliest stages of formation (before a lump can be felt).
Is Thermography Covered by Insurance?
Ironically, while thermography is lauded by NY Presbyterian Cornell (published studies about its efficacy), recommended by MD Anderson (published studies and nurse trainings offered in its use), you won't be able to call them up and schedule one. Even though thermal imaging is the subject of thousands of internationally published studies praising its reliabilty for detecting the earlies tissue changes, thermal imaging is not a cash cow for the medical industry. The bottom line, literally, is why you won't find it covered by insurance.
When I spoke personally with Dr. Peter Leando of Meditherm Inc, who provides professional medical thermography equipment and training, he explained when they attempted to negotiate insurance reimbursement rates for this service in the US, the rate offered was lower than the cost of the image interpretation fees, read by specially trained MDs! Insurance companies wouldn't pay more than a few dollars per imaging session.
Is Thermal Imaging Just for Older Women Who Would Normally Get a Mammogram?
Digital Infrared Thermal Imaging is especially appropriate for younger women between 30 & 50 whose denser breast tissue makes it more difficult for mammography to pick up suspicious lesions. This test can provide a 'clinical marker' to the doctor or mammographer that a specific area of the breast needs particularly close examination.
Breast cancers tend to grow significantly faster in younger women under 50:
AVERAGE TUMOR DOUBLING TIME
Under 50 80 days
Age 50 - 70 157 days
Over age 70 188 days
Source: Cancer 71:3547-3551, 1993
The faster a malignant tumor grows, the more infrared radiation it generates. For younger women in particular, results from thermographic screening can lead to earlier detection and, ultimately, longer life.
Lateral views are taken to compare thermal symmetry.
Thermal imaging is designed to improve chances for detecting fast-growing, active tumors in the intervals between mammographic screenings or when mammography is not indicated by screening guidelines for women under 50 years of age.
All patients thermograms (breast images) are kept on record for the doctors to compare, and form a baseline for all future routine evaluations.
Find a Thermal Imaging Center Near You
You can usually find thermal imaging services offered by Certified Clinical Thermographers at health care offices that generally advocate more holistic or natural approaches. Certified thermographers often come to the providers office, rather than have stand-alone locations. The types of offices that host thermography serivices include Chiropractors, MD's, Wellness Centers, Osteopath offices, Acupuncture Centers, Health Food Stores, Medical Spa's, Massage Centers, Herbal Stores, Holistic Dentists, Birthing Centers, Colon Hydrotherapists, Reflexologists, Yoga Centers, Pilates Centers and Nutritional Counseling Centers.
Expect to pay between $150-$175 or so for a thermal image screening of your breasts.
To find a Thermal Imaging Center Near You: