Detecting cancer before it metastasizes is the goal of any diagnostic testing. Thermography, which measures the heat produced by different parts of the body, is currently an important diagnostic tool for spotting breast cancer in its early stages. However, supporters of this methodology suggest that this type of thermal imaging can detect cancerous masses, including mesothelioma, earlier than the traditional imaging techniques that are currently in use.
How Does Thermography Work?
This diagnostic tool, also known as Digital Infrared Thermal Imaging (DITI), is non-invasive technique that visualizes changes in skin temperature. A special device converts the infrared radiation given off by the skin into electrical impulses that display as different colors on the computer monitor. This map of body temperature is called a thermogram. The variety of colors is an indication of the increase or decrease in the amount of infrared radiation being given off. The human body is typically symmetrical in terms of temperature; so if there is an increase /decrease in body temperature, it is easy to spot. The results of a thermogram are interpreted by a physician who is a board certified Thermologist.
There are a number of clinical uses for Thermography:
- To determine the extent of a previously diagnosed lesion
- To define the extent of an abnormal area not previously diagnosed so that further testing can be performed
- To detect lesions in their early stages
- To monitor how well the body is healing
How Long Does a Thermal Scan Take?
Depending upon which part of the body is being scanned, the procedure takes approximately 10 – 45 minutes. The patient is required to remove all jewelry and clothing and put on a surgical gown.
Are There Any Special Instructions the Patient Must Follow Before Having a Thermal Scan?
Although there are no restrictions in terms of eating or drinking as with some other diagnostic tests, there are some things the patient must do:
- They cannot have physical therapy, massage, or electromyography (a test that records the electrical activity of muscle tissue) before the test
- They cannot smoke for two hours before the test
- They cannot use lotions, deodorants, or liniments before the test
- They must avoid strong sunlight before the test
How Effective is Thermography in Terms of Early Detection?
Currently, the only data regarding thermography is as a breast cancer screening tool.
In the American Cancer Society report titled “Mammograms and Other Breast Imaging Procedures”, published in 2010, the non-profit noted that:
“Thermography has been around for many years, and some scientists are still trying to improve the technology to use it in breast imaging. But no study has ever shown that it is an effective screening tool for finding breast cancer early. It should not be used as a substitute for mammograms. Newer versions of this test are better able to find very small temperature differences. They may prove to be more accurate than older versions, and are now being studied to find out if they might be useful in finding cancer.”