Thermograms detect infrared rays to show patterns of body temperature.
What most people I know who have gotten a thermogram don’t seem to have been told is that thermograms only detect surface bloodflow, so any cancer growth deeper than a few millimeters may not be detected unless it also happens to be large enough to disturb the surface blood flow patterns.
Mammograms use radiation to find calcifications hiding anywhere in the breast tissue, even deep ones.
What most people who’ve gotten mammograms don’t often hear is that mammograms are really difficult to interpret.
The true power of any diagnostic image lies not in the technology but in the human brains behind the technology. Over decades, mammographers have been getting smarter and smarter, learning from mistakes and successes.
Radiologists have learned to detect cancers earlier and earlier because there’s been a group who have systematically studied cancer cases, going back to look at earlier mammograms to see if there were any abnormalities in the area of the tumor that, in retrospect, have become obvious.
This information is dissemenated at medical meetings and in journals, textbooks and so on. So now, after four decades of experience using the technology, mammograms can detect very tiny (1 mm), early cancers. (Unfortunately, they cannot determine whether the cancer has already metastasized, see post to find out why this makes screening mammography potentially risky.) Compared to this massive collective intelligence improving the interpretation of mammograms, thermography is in its infancy.
Thermography professionals have small and scattered associations. Mammography professionals have huge and highly organized associations and frequent meetings. The network of intellect behind mammography is huge. Thermography, not so. Not yet.
Bottom line: If you want to find a cancer, you want to get a mammogram. Thermographic results are interesting when used in combination with standard mammography, but right now their diagnostic and prognostic value are too limited and I would recommend that women who want to use thermograms as a replacement for mammograms reconsider their position.
Now the real question is, if you find breast cancer early, does it prolong your life? You might be surprised by the answer. (See my post, Breast Cancer: Is Early Detection a Good Thing)