Breast Thermography: A Different Kind of Breast Screening

Diet, exercise, breast massage, and regular screenings are key to maintaining healthy breasts. According to the American Cancer Society, mammograms are the most common and traditional type of breast screening that can be taken as early as 40 years old for women who are at high risk of breast cancer. Breast thermography offers a different kind of breast screening, that women can take as early as 20 years old. Chit.Chaat.Chai sat down with Renne Russo, a board certified Thermographic Technician and owner of Thermography Center of Sonoma County, to learn more about the process and benefits of breast thermography screenings.

A Q & A with Renne Russo

a board certified Thermographic Technician and owner of Thermography Center of Sonoma County


What is Breast Thermography?

Breast Thermography is a risk assessment process that uses an infrared (heat sensing) camera to detect heat variations in the breasts. Because infection, inflammation, fibrocystic and fibroglandular tissue, and breast cancer can cause excess blood in the breast tissue, thermography can detect these areas before any other type of breast screening. In 90% of breast cancers, the first physiological change in the body involves the formation of additional blood vessels set up to feed the growth of a tumor. Thermography sees these patterns first, and is, therefore, an important predictive tool. These variation patterns can indicate a risk for breast cancer, either now or in the future.

Why should a woman consider a Breast Thermography screening?

Breast thermography is chosen by women who prefer to live a proactive life and take their own power back regarding breast health. Most women choosing thermal imaging are already practicing preventive habits in their lives; they eat organic whole foods, limit sugar and alcohol consumption, attempt to enjoy a life balanced with work, play, creativity, adventure, and purpose, and they strive to process rather than suppress their difficult emotions. There are also many women who are just fed up with mammography and want a safer technique.

Is Breast Thermography Safe?

Yes. It is a contact-, radiation-, and pain-free scan which was approved by the FDA as an adjunctive screening in 1982. It is safe for the following women: 20 years or older, pregnant or lactating, those who have implants, have had a breast reduction or other breast surgeries), and women who have already had breast cancer, especially those who have had a mastectomy.

The process is as easy as having your photo taken. In a temperature-controlled setting, a woman disrobes to the waist, allowing the surface of the breasts to cool to the room temperature (18–22ºC). This takes 15 minutes. Then with the arms raised, seven images are taken in order to capture all of the tissue in and surrounding each breast, including each armpit. Once the images have been captured, they are sent to a Board Certified Thermologist for interpretation. A written and image report is given directly to the client.   

With mammograms, usually recommended at a much later age, why is breast thermography recommended as early as the age of 20?

Since thermal imaging is completely safe, we start screening women at age 20 and ideally follow them throughout their lifetimes. Once a baseline has been taken, each subsequent scan is compared to the previous one, so that any change of pattern or temperature is recorded. Other than a physical breast exam and an occasional breast ultrasound when necessary, there is no standard other breast screening for women between 20 and 40 years old, and sadly, breast cancer is getting younger and younger. Although getting a baseline is best at the youngest age, it is never too late to start using Thermography. Most women hear about thermal imaging between the ages of 35-60.

When did thermography begin?

The first historical mention of the thermal process comes from Hippocrates, in 400 BC. He had a theory that disease created inflammation in the body, and as an experiment, he smeared wet mud on a patient’s bare body and watched to see which part of the body dried the quickest. His theory was correct.

Modern thermography was developed in 1957 when Dr. Ray Lawson discovered that the surface of a breast with cancer was warmer than the healthy breast. He published his findings in the Cancer Medical Association Journal 75 in 1956, entitled “Implications of Surface Temperatures in the Diagnosis of Breast Cancer”.  His hypothesis led to more than 2 decades of research into methods to improve breast thermography as a useful screening tool. At a time when there was no other screening procedure widely available. In 1982, breast thermography was approved.

How are the images captured?

Breast thermal imaging is literally a heat map of the breasts; “thermal” = heat, “graphy” = map. The images are captured using a high-resolution infrared camera. Have you ever seen a movie in which people wore heat-sensing goggles to hunt people or animals? This is the same technology only with much better equipment!

What do you look for in the images?

The Thermologist looks at how the blood vessels are shaped, and how warm they are compared to the same area of the other breast. In the history of breast cancer, there has never been a documented case showing symmetrical cancer in one woman, in each breast at the same time. For this reason, any differing patterns or heat is recorded for future comparison. The most important information on a thermogram comes with subsequent scans, as areas of heat are tracked and can indicate the prediction of pathology.

What do you recommend to patients whose images are less symmetrical, yet no lump can be detected through a physical exam?

There are 5 breast screening methods, and we recommend each client research each method and then choose and utilize several since each technology misses something. Many women also find that when they adopt healthier lifestyle habits, their scan results improve. This can include finding a healthier balance between stress and fun, processing emotions on a regular basis, and changing food patterns. In addition, some women find it useful to work with a preventive practitioner to help them make these lifestyle changes.

Breast Thermography detects heat variations in the breast, what are other screenings are there other types of screenings that can provide another layer of information in monitoring breast health?

Today, the most effective way to use thermal imaging is in conjunction with other breast screenings. Most of our clients choose 2 or 3 screening methods since each one is looking at a different layer of information. These are the 5 breast screening options: Physical breast exam, Thermography, breast Ultrasound, Mammogram, and MRI. None of the current screening methods can actually diagnose breast cancer, only highlight an area of concern. Only a biopsy of the tissue can determine pathology. For this reason, utilizing several screening methods can assist women in making an educated and intelligent choice when considering any further action.

Renee Russo is a board certified Thermographic Technician and owner of Thermography Center of Sonoma County.  She is passionate about breast health. Her mission is to empower women with the information they need that can immediately improve their breast health, clean up unhealthy conditions and in some cases even reverse dangerous conditions that are already present. Offering comprehensive breast education, support, and resources to assist women in making sound breast health choices based on individual preferences.

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