While touted as a breast cancer prevention tool, the mammogram's radiation actually tends to increase breast cancer risk, especially if undertaken annually, as radiation could have cumulative carcinogenic effects. Moreover, the physical compression and manipulation of the breasts can even cause existent tumors to spread.
"Mammography is not an acceptable way of screening breasts; the only reason it's tolerated is that it is a major source of steady income for radiologists. They have come to covet mammography and want no competition from other approaches," said Philip Hoekstra, PhD, a pioneer in thermogram use.
Thermograms, while not as familiar as mammograms, have been used by progressive physicians to diagnose cancer as far back as the 1960s.
As an alternative to mammography, thermography is carried out based on infrared heat emission by the body's tissues. As bodily cells go about their usual metabolic processes, they give out heat. Using information on the varying heat emissions, thermography is able to produce images that provide insight into the functional status of a specific area of the human body, such as the breasts.
As compared to normal tissue, cancer growths are also regulated to a much lower extent by the autonomic nervous system. For example, when cool air is blown over the breasts, the autonomic nervous system lowers the amount of blood flow to normal breast tissue as a means of temperature regulation. The blood and blood vessels at the tumor site, however, are not under autonomic control and do not become cooler - thermography would thus show the abnormal tissues up as "hot spots".
Because neither ionizing radiation nor mechanical pressure are used, thermography does not increase cancer risk or promote cancer spread, making it a safer procedure. And because there is no physical compression of the breasts nor pain, the process is more comfortable as well.
Unlike mammograms, which become less accurate with denser breast tissue, thermography's accuracy is not affected by tissue density. In the case of breast cancer, thermograms can flag out cancer development five years before mammograms are able to do so. It does so by showing up the early stages of angiogenesis, the formation of new blood vessels which is a necessary precursor to tumor formation. Most breast tumors would have been slowly growing for up to two decades before conventional diagnostic methods can detect them. And at the earlier stages of development, cancer tumors are relatively easy to stop and reverse.