Heat or Radiation?

Posted by on Oct 20, 2010 in Healthy Changes

Heat or Radiation?

This summer I started hearing more reports about the radiation risk from mammograms. Most sources will tell you there is always a slight chance of cancer from excessive radiation exposure. But surely, if the medical community has recommended yearly mammogram for women over 40 since 1976, the amount of radiation exposure isn’t “excessive”, is it?

Hm-mm . . . You might want to rethink that.

You Have Cancer…

Five years ago this month I underwent the removal and reconstruction of my left breast and became cancer-free. My yearly mammogram eight months earlier had detected clustered micro-calcifications. The cancer, identified as “Stage Zero”, was classified as DCIS (Ductal Carcinoma In Situ) meaning that the cancer cells were inside the tissue of the milk ducts and hadn’t yet spread. I was lucky that the cells hadn’t developed into a tumor or metastasized elsewhere in my body. I was lucky that the cancer could be removed. I was lucky to be led to an awesome method of breast reconstruction called DIEP flap reconstruction (that didn’t compromise my abdominal muscles) performed by a masterful surgeon at MD Anderson Cancer Hospital in Houston.

When I was 33, a friend a year older than me had a double mastectomy. She had discovered a lump four years earlier. Her physician had told her she was “too young” for cancer. As the growth grew each year, she went back to the doctor who assured her that at her age it was a benign cyst. Imagine being 34, single and having a double mastectomy! At my next yearly exam I talked to my gynecologist about my concern – if it could happen to Toni, it could happen to me. My doctor recommended that if I was anxious, I could start getting yearly mammograms instead of waiting until I turned 40.

And I did. Yearly. On time. Religiously.

Mammogram Overuse

Mammogram

Mammogram

To compare, a chest x-ray is equivalent to the amount of radiation exposure a person experiences from natural surroundings in 10 days. A mammogram, on the other hand, has approximately 1000 times greater radiation exposure than a chest x-ray. A study presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) last winter conclusively showed that low-dose radiation from annual mammography screening significantly increases breast cancer.

Mammograms use high-frequency (ionizing) radiation that has enough energy to remove an electron from an atom or molecule – which is enough energy to damage the DNA in cells, which in turn may lead to cancer. I started to wonder about my cumulative radiation effects from 18+ mammograms. (Additional mammograms were performed during the cancer diagnosis and treatment process.) Concerned about this overexposure, I began to research alternative screening methods and found out about thermography.

Thermography

Thermography

Thermography – A Safer Way to Detect Changes

Thermography, which has been researched for over 30 years, is a non-invasive, painless method of monitoring breast health. No tissue is exposed to x-ray nor does it involve any compression of breast tissue. (The Cancer Prevention Coalition warns that breast compression may “lead to distant and lethal spread of malignant cells”.) Here’s the basic principle of how thermography works: Both precancerous tissue and the area surrounding developing breast cancer needs an abundant supply of nutrients to maintain growth, making it highly metabolic tissue. The increased chemical and blood vessel activity in the area results in an increase in regional surface temperatures of the breast. Thermography uses ultra-sensitive infrared cameras (at a distance of several feet) and computers to detect, analyze, and produce high-resolution diagnostic images of the temperatures and vascular changes. Abnormal tissue growth shows up as a “hot spot” in a thermogram.

Who Might Hear Those Words Next?

It has been determined that 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. Approximately one-third of all breast cancers occur in women under 45 and it is the most common cancer in women of this age group. Breast cancers in younger women are generally more aggressive and have poorer survival rates. Unlike after-the-fact (a cancerous tumor is already there) detection technologies such as mammography, MRI, CT, ultrasound, or PET scans, an abnormal breast thermography has the ability to give a warning signal far in advance of invasive tumor growth.

By maintaining close monitoring of her breast health with serial thermographs, a woman has a much better chance of detecting cancer at its earliest stage and preventing invasive tissue growth.

Beginning with a breast thermography baseline screening (as early as age 20) women are offered information that no other testing procedure can provide. With thermography, cancer can often be detected up to ten years in advance of when it would be detected in a mammogram or clinical breast exam, according to the International Academy of Clinical Thermology. If caught in its earliest stages, breast cancer cure rates greater than 95% are possible.

You Can Decide What’s Best For You

Last year a government-appointed panel reevaluated breast cancer screenings for the first time since 2002. The panel cited evidence that the potential harm to women having annual mammograms beginning at age 40 outweigh the benefits. If this is so, wouldn’t it make sense to start screening with thermography instead of mammography? If an abnormal reading occurs, you’ll be advised to follow-up with serial thermographs or with a mammogram.

Find a Thermography Clinic:

Update July 2012: Thermography clinics are opening in all areas. Do a local search to see what may be available in your area. I have updated the links here:

Feel Your Boobies!

It is always important for women to do thorough, monthly breast self-exams so they can be aware of changes, and to have their physician do a breast exam during their annual exam. If you do detect changes during your monthly self-exam, quickly make an appointment to discuss these with your doctor.

Resources:

Cancer Prevention Coalition – Dangers and Unreliability of Mammography

Healing Daily.com – Should you get mammograms?

The Washington Post – Breast Exam Guidelines Now Call for Less Testing

Mammography vs. Thermography Debate

This information is not intended to treat, diagnose, cure or prevent any disease. All material in this article is provided for educational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you have regarding a medical condition, and before undertaking any diet, exercise or other health program.