What is Medical Infrared Imaging, otherwise known as Thermography?

First off, it saves lives by giving an early warning and early detection or cancerous activity in certain areas of the body, in particular the breasts. It provides a visual assessment of physiology which aids in evaluation and substantiation of conditions and it is often the only effective imaging modality available.

This is a completely non-invasive treatment monitoring devise that shows a picture of the affected area. It is only a picture. There is no radiation, no damage to the tissue, and no discomfort. It is highly unknown to most people and their health care providers as it is not highly expensive and there isn’t a whole lot of money to be made off of actual preventative care.

Just a little history around this amazing imaging system.

In 400 B.C., Hippocrates utilized the first “thermographic” imaging system. It was mud. Yes, he covered a patient’s body with mud and discovered where it dried first was where the hottest area of the body was and thus was able to determine what was going on with that particular patient. There was underlying organ pathology at the area that dried the quickest. Modern uses of infrared would be ear and forehead thermometers, night vision goggles in the military, and airport SARS detection devices. In 1957 the military made this technology available to the medical world and the first thermography infrared machine was invented and utilized. Body temperatures act as reference points and are an indication of how the body is functioning.

So how does it work? The thermography camera utilizes short wave ultrasensitive infrared detectors coupled to sophisticated computer processing stations that accurately measure and produce an image of the heat emanating from the surface of the body. It is a high-resolution medical infrared imaging system that is accurate and measures in a controlled environment under stable temperature conditions. This is not the thermography of the past, which was a low resolution image, lacked the computerized imaging process and was not standardized for interpretation protocols.

The modern infrared cameras measure the skin surface temperatures, blood vessel pattern and nervous system responses to the temperature which can display normal and abnormal physiologic function changes. Modern computerized infrared image processing combined with established patient and laboratory protocols produces high quality images that are easy to read and understand. This process is 100% safe and painless! There is no radiation, no intravenous access and no contact with the body.

In 1982 the FDA approved infrared imaging as an adjunctive breast cancer screening tool that was also approved to help detect other conditions as well. It has been recognized as a valuable imaging procedure by the Congress of Neurosurgeons, the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabioitation, the American Academy of Thermology, the International Academy of Clinical Thermology and the International Thermographic Society.

So how is Infrared imaging helpful?

It provides additional data that enables patients, doctors, sports specialists, athletic trainers and others to visualize the physiologic component of pain, injury, illness or disease, it aids in confirming the existence of an abnormality, provides an early warning/detection of diseasing processes, helps patients make informed decisions regarding the need for further evaluations, improves diagnostic accuracy and direction for proper treatment, obtains visual verification of the effectiveness of treatment with imaging before, during and after treatments, and spares patients from unnecessary treatments and surgeries that can do more harm than good. It may even provide for the earliest possible warnings in breast cancer detection, up to 8-10 years before any other technology would even know it was there!

So what Infrared is looking for in a situation like breast cancers is an over vascularization in one area as opposed to the rest of the tissue. If there is a cancerous growth present, it needs blood supply. Well in generating new vasculature to feed it, this new vasculature does not respond to temperature changes like embryological tissue would normally respond, therefore, it generates more heat over the affected area and shows up on the thermogram. If caught early enough, it can be corrected through dietary changes and possibly hormone changes. One of the leading causes of breast cancer is over exposure to estrogen throughout your life. Such things as flax seed, soy and other foods that produce a lot of estrogen can cause this over production of estrogen in the body. The second leading cause is trauma. I’m not sure about you, but I don’t know of anything more traumatic than squashing your breast in every direction while irradiating the tissue.

Most breast tumors take 8-10 years to grow to the size of a dime – the average size detected by mammography. All women are at risk for breast cancer. We all have cancerous cells in our bodies, but whether they are expressed or not can be up to us. 1 out of 8 women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. 75% of breast cancers occur in women with NO FAMILY HISTORY. 15% of all breast cancers are found in women between the ages of 20 and 40 and there is currently no screening processes for that age range, except for thermography.

Early detection of this cancerous, or abnormal activity in the breasts can mean the difference between a lumpectomy and a mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation, or none, or life and death. With its advanced warning, infrared imaging may enable the earliest of treatment options.

Over 40,000 women die every year from breast cancer. It is the leading cause of cancer deaths among women aged 40-55. There are no early warning screening tests for women under 40. Fast growing tumors can appear between mammograms. Some women are poor candidates for mammograms because of age (under 40), tissue density, implants, pregnancy, nursing, or fibrous cysts. Infrared is not effected by patient age, breast size, tissue density, implants or previous breast surgeries, including mastectomies. Infrared imaging can be performed more frequently than other procedures to monitor high risk women more closely. This can be done without the health risks associated with other imaging procedures. It is 90% sensitive and specific. Survival rates may be increased by up to 61% when infrared imaging is added to a woman’s regular breast health care. When infrared imaging is added to clinical examinations and mammography, a 95% detection rate for early stage cancers is reached. That is unheard of anywhere else!

Only infrared breast imaging provides the earliest known risk marker for the existence of or future development of breast cancer. It may play a significant role in prevention by signaling a hormonal imbalance in the breasts.

Who would be a good candidate for breast imaging?

Women over 20 looking to add a personal risk assessment to their regular breast health care, women who are not candidates for mammography, and cancer survivors looking to improve their early detection monitoring. Some good guidelines to follow for infrared imaging are:
Age 20 – initial baseline thermogram
Age 20-29 – thermogram every 3 years
Age 30 and over – annual thermogram

Other issues thermography can help to detect are:
Possible stroke, diabetes, thyroid diseases, soft tissue injuries, sports injuries, circulation problems, repetitive strain injuries, chronic pain conditions and many more.

If you would like to learn more about thermography, please let me know. Ask your question either in person or on this blog and I will see if I can answer it for you.

Dr. Shalona J. McFarland D.C.

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