Digital Infrared Breast Thermography

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New technology avoids the hazards of standard mammograms

Women concerned about relying on breast self-examination and who don’t want to face the concerns and discomfort of X-ray exposure involved in mammograms now have an effective early screening method. Digital Infrared Breast Thermography is a sensitive, non-invasive method of effectively screening for early functional changes in breast tissue.

As the rate of breast cancer rapidly increases in women, better technology to detect the dysfunction of breast tissue before diseases occur is urgently needed. I have been working as a naturopathic doctor and chiropractor with thermography as a screening tool for over five years, initially sending patients from Toronto to have scans done in Detroit with Dr. Phil Hoekstra PhD, a second generation thermographer with over 25 years of experience.

I was so impressed with the ability to “see” what was happening in the breast tissue of clients years before any other techniques were able to detect problems that I committed to bringing thermography to communities across Canada. With my business partner, Cathie Stewart CGA, we established Medical Thermography International Inc. (MTI Inc.) in 2001 to provide state of the art equipment and highly trained staffing to hold thermography clinics across the country while continuing to have the expertise of Dr. Hoekstra to read the scans and write the thermology reports.

What is Breast Thermography?

Breast Thermography is a medical technique used extensively in other countries as a first-line screening procedure to assess breast health. In order for solid mass cancer tumours to grow, the circulation near the tumour becomes abnormal. These changes are such that the central nervous system loses control of the heating and cooling These abnormal temperatures are detectable with highly advanced infrared cameras. A digital infrared-sensing camera and high-speed computer are used to measure heat radiated from the breasts and adjacent areas.

To distinguish normal from abnormal tissue function, the hands are immersed in cold water to provide a cold challenge to the whole body. The scan is then repeated. Normal cells will show a decrease in heat production while cells with increased cellular activity (e.g. cancer cells) maintain or increase their heat radiation.

A highly skilled thermology reader analyzes the before-and-after-cold-challenge scans in order to write a thermology report which establishes a graded scale of response in the breast tissue.

Thermography: First Line Breast Screening

Because mammograms detect structural changes, a lump or mass of a size detectable on X-ray is already present in breast tissue by the time a problem is found. The next step is further investigation by ultrasound and/or biopsy to diagnose the nature of the lump or mass, and to make treatment decisions. At this point, it is often too late to implement preventive strategies alone, so medical intervention is the norm.

In comparison, breast thermography detects functional changes in breast tissue before tumours form or when they are too small to be detected with digital X-ray machines. This is done without radiation, compression, contact or needles.

Unlike mammograms, thermography can be used for women of all ages and with all types of breast tissue: young, dense, pregnant, breastfeeding, pre- and post-menopausal, fibrocystic, with breast implants, and when on HRT.

Because breast thermography is particularly useful during early phases of rapid tumour growth that is not yet detectable by clinical exam or mammograms, it has the potential to detect problems five to eight years before abnormalities can be seen with mammograms.

This early detection of abnormal tissue activity makes breast thermography extremely useful and cost-effective as a screening strategy and gives the opportunity to apply non-invasive therapies to improve breast tissue function. The non-invasive nature of thermography also allows for repeat scans. This improves the ability to compare changes over time and monitor the results of preventive strategies to protect breast tissue.

The Procedure

In preparation for the scans, and after filling out a breast history form, patients are asked to undress to the waist in a private dressing room to allow the breasts to cool to room temperature (18 to 22oC) for about 15 minutes.

For the actual scanning the patient is asked to stand about 10 feet in front of the camera with arms raised over the head while three images are taken: front, right side and left side.

Next comes the cold challenge where patients are asked to place both hands in cold water at 10oC for one minute.

After that, the three scans are repeated.

Once completed the thermography breast scans will be read and analyzed using international regulated standards by Dr. Phil Hoekstra who is a trained and skilled member of the American Academy of Thermology.

What Do the Results Mean?

A thermology report with a colour copy of the thermography results are sent to the patient and/or her health care provider by mail in approximately one month. The international standardized grading system used in the report is called the Marseille System of Classification, which provides strict criteria for rating breast thermography scans. The scans are reported on a scale of TH-1 to TH-5.

• TH-1: normal tissue

• TH-2: some changes in tissue i.e. fibrocystic, but normal response to cold challenge

• TH-3: suspicious tissue activity with areas not responding to the cold challenge and maintaining higher heat areas

• TH-4: abnormal tissue activity with areas not responding to the cold challenge and maintaining higher heat areas

• TH-5: severely abnormal tissue activity with areas not responding to the cold challenge and maintaining higher heat areas.

Level TH-1 provides reassurance that the tissue activity is normal and that the appropriate follow-up is screening by thermography in one year. Level TH-2 indicates that tissue did respond normally to the cold challenge and tissue health can be improved through preventive therapies. Level TH-3 indicates that close monitoring through ultrasound and professional examination are advised and preventive therapies are needed. Levels TH-4 and TH-5 require immediate referral for ultrasound exam on the areas specifically located by the breast thermography along with professional examination and other screening methods as indicated and appropriate preventive therapies.

Dates for Outreach Clinics to be held in 2022 can be found at:

Dr. Verna Hunt is a naturopathic doctor, chiropractor and kinesiologist in clinical practice for over 35 years. She has an Honours Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Waterloo in Kinesiology, Doctor of Chiropractic from the Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College, Naturopathic Doctor from the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine among other educational achievements. Dr. Verna Hunt works by assessing the underlying causes of her clients' lack of wellness and tailors care to their particular situation while teaching them how to care for themselves over a lifetime. For more details of The Health & Well Being Partnership™ please visit the Client Process page at Verna also writes and lectures on many topics.

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