Mammograms Beat Thermography for Breast Cancer Detection:
FRIDAY, May 4 (HealthDay News) -- Thermography -- a breast
cancer detection method touted by some as a substitute for
mammography -- is an unreliable cancer screen, according to new
In a study of about 180 women, thermography missed about 50
percent of cancers and delivered too many false positives, said Dr.
C.M. Guilfoyle, a researcher at Bryn Mawr Hospital in
The radiation-free screening method uses computer software to
measure and compare thermal abnormalities in the breasts and create
a breast "map" to look for signs of developing breast cancer. The
thinking is that increased temperature is found in areas with
increased blood flow, and that may indicate a tumor.
Researchers evaluated the technique, marketed as the No Touch
Breast Scan, on the breasts of women undergoing biopsies after they
had suspicious findings on other imaging exams.
"I think we are still trying to determine the role of thermography as a breast cancer screening tool," Guilfoyle said. The technology she used was often not able to tell the difference between malignant and benign lesions, she said.
Guilfoyle is expected to present the findings Friday at the
American Society of Breast Surgeons' annual meeting in Phoenix.
The test, as its name suggests, involves no physical contact. It
is available in the New York City area, and may expand to other
locations soon, said Barbara Zimmerly, a company spokeswoman.
It costs about $150, and it is not covered by insurance at this
time. "The test is 88 percent accurate, according to the latest
study," Zimmerly said.
Guilfoyle, however, found less accuracy in her evaluation of
women with abnormal radiologic findings between October 2009 and
For the study, each woman had a thermography test before a
tissue biopsy, and Guilfoyle compared the final tissue pathology
results with the thermography results. Each breast was interpreted
as positive or negative for cancer based on the thermography
The healthy breast also was examined with thermography. Two
models of the thermography scan were used. One focused on
minimizing false negative results; the other focused on minimizing
anxiety-provoking false positives.
Depending on which scan model was used, thermography missed
about half of all cancers or had an unacceptably high number of
false positives when compared to pathology reports on the abnormal
breasts, according to the study.
The researchers also found that 47 percent of the normal breasts
got a false positive reading on the thermography scan.
The role of thermography is still evolving, said Dr. Kimberly
Lovett, attending physician at Southern California Permanente and
an investigator at the University of California-San Diego Center
for Patient Safety.
Lovett has written about the dangers of online ads that tout
thermography as the sole method of breast cancer detection.
"I would tell women that thermography continues to be studied, and the technology will hopefully improve over time," she said. "However, at this time, thermography should absolutely not be used as an alternative to screening mammogram or as an alternative to breast biopsy in the presence of a positive mammogram."
If a woman has a suspicious lesion on a mammogram, the follow-up
methods should be an ultrasound or biopsy, or both, Lovett
Mammography remains the gold standard for detecting breast
cancer, Lovett said. The American Cancer Society agrees that
thermography is not a substitute for mammography.
Data and conclusions presented at meetings should be considered
preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.
For more on breast imaging, visit the
American Cancer Society.
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