Breast thermography – Warning, playing with your health!

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Posted 05 November 2013

At TopHealth, Breast Thermography is advertised as

Breast thermography is a safe, painless diagnostic procedure that images the breasts to aid in the early detection of breast cancer.  It is both non-invasive and comfortable, using no radiation or compression.

allergostop2TopHealth is the website of Dr. J Ford, Lynnwood Corporate Park, cnr. Sanlam & Alkantrant streets, Lynnwood, Pretoria.The ASA has also ruled that there is no evidence to support the product, AllergoStop which is prominently advertised on 

TopHealth, and in my opinion as someone working in allergy, is nothing more than a scam.

The claim continues: “By carefully examining changes in the temperature and blood vessels of the breasts, signs of possible cancer or pre-cancerous cell growth may be detected up to 10 years prior to being discovered using any other procedure”.

To convince potential clients that this method of detecting breast cancer is highly effective, Dr Ford argues: “Over 30 years of clinical use and more than 8 000 peer-reviewed studies in medical literature have established Thermography as a safe and effective means to examine the human body.

How does this measure up with the evidence?

Thermography has been promoted by complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) clinics particularly as a breast imaging technique for cancer screening, but is NOT scientifically validated (that is, not good evidence!)in particular for evaluating the breast.

The American Cancer Society says: “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 yet shown that it is an effective screening tool for finding breast cancer early. It should not be used as a substitute for mammograms.

Initial studies conducted in 1977 found it to be less useful than either mammography or clinical examination,[Thermography, Mammography, and Clinical Examination in Breast Cancer, Radiology vol 122 January 1977, 123-127]

Skeptics have pointed out that sites promoting breast thermography carry the “quack Miranda warning” that claims have not been evaluated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) (although many sellers of the test make this claim). In fact, the FDA has issued a public warning notice stating that breast thermography is not an alternative to mammography and has ordered Joseph Mercola (one of the so-called “expert” doctors supporting the test) to stop making excessive claims for thermography.

Health Canada have issued “cease and desist” orders to clinics offering breast thermography as a claimed cancer diagonstic.

Scott Gavura of the Science Based Pharmacy blog describes breast thermography as “worse than useless” based on currently available evidence.

Science Based Medicine also evaluated all the available evidence and concluded: “Thermography is a technology that has some degree of scientific plausibility but has not been validated as a diagnostic modality to detect breast cancer. The studies from 30 years ago showed it to be markedly inferior to mammography for this purpose, the claims of naturopaths, chiropractors, and various other quacks notwithstanding. While it’s true that advances in technology and computing power might have brought thermography to a point where it might be a useful adjunct to current imaging techniques, large randomized clinical trials have not been done to define its sensitivity and specificity and determine its utility when added to routine mammographic screening. 

Dr. Christiane Northrup, a friend of Oprah, claims that breast thermography is highly effective.  Science Based Medicine have described this as the opportunistic promotion of quackery and further investigation found some interesting claims that Dr Norhrup is (in)famous for: On Oprah’s show she advocated “the use of Qi Gong to direct qi to the vagina, there apparently to cure all manner of female ills and promote fantastic orgasms in the process.”

Is Thermography a scam device?

thermographyNo, not really. It is an actual device which can measures differences in temperature of various aspects of the body. Most systems use infrared imaging to achieve these measurements. There is nothing magical about it; the technology has been in use for various applications for decades.

 

However, can it detect breast cancer?

David Gorski has written a wonderful article examining the evidence to support the claims for this product, and it is depressing for it demonstrates how poor the evidence is making a good argument for this product’s claims being at worse, a scam, and at best, a highly risky test for correctly predicting whether one is at risk for breast cancer.

No, studies do not show anything of the sort, other than that thermography probably doesn’t hurt the body. In particular thermography does not produce unambiguous results—far from it! That’s the problem, and that’s the reason why thermography has not caught on. It’s unreliable, and it doesn’t provide much in the way of anatomic information that allows a better localization of the breast cancers it does find. You’ll note if you look at Dr. Northrup’s article that the most recent article she cites that directly addresses the use of thermography to detect breast cancer is from 1982. There are more recent reviews and studies, as you might expect, but, oddly enough, Dr. Northrup doesn’t cite them.

What thermography boosters also fail to tell you is that the reason why thermography fell out of favor 30 years ago was as a result of a study by Feig et al in 1977 that found thermograpy to come in dead last among existing screening modalities of the time in finding breast cancers. Mammography detected 78% of breast cancers. In contrast, thermography only detected 39%, and in all 16,000 women in the study thermography was interpreted as positive in 17.9%.

The article, posted to Science-Based Medicine, is essential reading for it explains exactly why the evidence for this test simply does not weigh up to anything and anyone putting their precious health in the hands of practitioners using this test, is high risk.

Other South African sites promoting Breast Thermography include:

ThermoMed 19B Westlake Lifestyle Centre, Westlake Drive, Tokai

A South African article published on the Health 24 website in 2011, agrees: “Thermography no mammography alternative

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2 Responses to Breast thermography – Warning, playing with your health!

  1. Lily 18 October, 2016 at 7:46 pm #

    Absolute nonsense Dr Ford has written here!!
    The Swiss government banished mammography screens – you can find lengthy articles on the internet regarding the scientific reasons and research around this 12 months project to dismiss mamography.
    On Dr Mercola’s website you can find an article as well – supported by the BMJ scientific research.
    Please, do not deteriorate practices that you are not familiar with and do not have enough knowledge on.

    • Harris 18 October, 2016 at 11:01 pm #

      “National breast cancer screening programs in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Poland, Norway, Luxembourg, Germany, Finland, Denmark, and Belgium offer mammography screening every 2 to 3 years for women aged 50 up to 74 years.” U.S. Preventative Services Task Force Current as of: January 2016.

      In 2014, The Swiss Medical Board has recommended that Switzerland stop introducing new mammography screening programs and phase out existing programs, according to an essay published online April 16 in the New England Journal of Medicine. The group recommends that systematic screening programs be replaced with systematic screening information and that women make individual choices. Medscape

      Dr Mercola: “Mercola and colleagues advocate a number of unproven alternative health notions including homeopathy, while promoting anti-vaccine positions”. “In 2005, 2006, and 2011, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned Mercola and his company to stop making illegal claims regarding his products’ ability to detect, prevent, and treat disease”. Wikipedia

      “Mercola.com is a horrible chimera of tabloid journalism, late-night infomercials, and amateur pre-scientific medicine, and is the primary web presence of Joseph Mercola. Unfortunately, it is also one of the more popular alternative medicine sites on the web and as such is uncommonly efficient at spreading misinformation”. Science-Based Medicine

      Dr. Joseph Mercola Ordered to Stop Illegal Claims. Quackwatch

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