By Pam Mathews, CCT
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Breast Cancer Awareness Month is an annual campaign for increasing the awareness of the importance of early detection, and treatment of this disease. Detecting and diagnosing breast pathology as early as possible is undeniably the most important action an individual can take.
As a woman that’s had five breast surgeries, I know and understand the importance of early detection. However, the levels of radiation in detection methods should also be a consideration. Each time I had surgery, there was a mammogram done. It’s estimated that each time you have a mammogram, you increase your risk of breast cancer by 2 percent.
I’ve seen firsthand what radiation does to the body. I started working in the medical field at John Hopkin’s Hospital in Baltimore where I received my Radiologic Technology degree. After several years, I worked as a radiation therapist, caring for cancer patients receiving radiation therapy. I went on to spend many years working with orthopedic and naturopathic doctors.
Between X-rays, numerous mammograms, and scatter radiation exposure from working in the imaging field, let’s just say I’ve been exposed to more radiation than the average person. Because of my surgeries, scar tissue and muscle damage, mammograms are very painful and almost always result in a recheck, leading to more radiation exposure. I know and understand the importance of early detection, but did not want to expose myself to more radiation.
For me, it was time to explore other options. When I was introduced to digital infrared thermal imaging (DITI) or thermography, I felt it was a godsend.
I found regular screenings by thermography at consistent intervals offered the very earliest indicators of abnormality detecting subtle physiologic changes occurring in the breast tissue, whether it’s cancer, fibrocystic disease, or an infection. It was completely radiation free, there was no compression needed, and absolutely zero amount of pain.
After having thermography scans performed for five years, and seeing firsthand how it works and the difference it can make in people’s life, I decided this was something I can do for others. Combining my training with X-ray and radiation therapies, plus my own experience, to educate and share thermography with others just made sense. I completed my training and Clinical Thermographer certification at American College of Clinical Thermography.
Although mammograms are still important, thermography is a first-response resource to help individuals monitor their health and detect irregular cellular activity in the earliest stages, often before symptoms appear.
It takes, on average, cancerous cells 90 days to double in growth. It takes about five to eight years for the mass to be big enough to detect using mammography, ultrasound, or MRI. Thermography can detect the new blood flow and inflammation changes within just a few weeks. These changes can be detected before being felt in the tissue.
A DITI camera creates images illustrating heat patterns in the body. An initial scan is taken, with a follow up about 3 months later. Multiple thermal scans are used to create a personal thermal map of the area of interest to track vascular changes over time. These scans are stored on the computer and sent electronically to a medical doctor trained in thermography for interpretation, analysis, and reporting.
The thermal images are analyzed for abnormalities possibly indicating signs of disease in the body. These comparative scans will highlight blood flow, tissue physiology (inflammation), and function changes. The doctor submits a diagnostic report, which is then given to the patient to share with their health care professional.
It is important to note that thermography does not diagnose cancer. It exposes localized inflammation, giving doctors and specialists a unique thermal map from which recommendations and therapies can be prescribed, or recommend more drastic tests.
The Personal Touch
My life experiences, previous employment, and experience dealing with people facing tough situations and personal health challenges, gives me the unique ability to relate to people on many levels. I’ve been in their shoes. I understand their concerns, anxieties, and fears. They may walk in as a patient, but in the short time we spend together, I make a personal connection and they leave with a new friend, someone they can call when needed.
One person called because she couldn’t sleep and had an overwhelming fear her cancer had returned. The cost of a scan was well worth the peace of mind she gained from the scan results.
I’ve received calls from my patients regarding things not related to their health —someone they can turn to as a friend when they need a listening ear or bounce a thought off someone, a real friend. One person called because she couldn’t figure out where to buy a replacement water filter for her facet. It was a real problem for her and easy for me to help her out.
Since I work with many professionals from a variety of fields throughout the state, often I can help when someone is looking for a referral.
I have a mobile unit, so the thermography scan can be done most anywhere, as long as there is a plain wall for the background and room to set up the camera and computer. For patient convenience and comfort, I often perform the scan in the patient’s own doctor’s office and do home visits for people with limited mobility.
I had a patient whose second annual exam (first year to determine baseline then annually each year thereafter) showed abnormal activity. Her naturopathic physician had her do a detox and make changes to her diet. Three months later, her scan was back to baseline.
A woman I met recently had learned about thermography and on a whim, decided to have a scan. It showed some abnormal activity so she followed up with her physician who ordered a mammogram. It was negative, but because of a family history of breast cancer, she saw a specialist anyway. A biopsy of the area showing concern found cancer cells. The doctor did a lumpectomy and said she probably caught the cancer five years sooner than it would have otherwise been detected.
Although thermography is very cost-effective, most insurance companies won’t cover the screening. This is changing, however, as preventive health and early detection are more in-focus and considered an effective way to keep health care costs down. There are a few progressive insurance companies that cover thermography as a part of their preventive wellness plans now. However, it is likely that more companies will soon realize the benefit of thermography and its life-saving technology and include it in their general coverage in the near future.
Today, important screening tools include blood and urine tests, invasive and non-invasive biopsies, detailed patient histories, and standard radiographic procedures such as mammography. Using a multimodal approach, clinical examination, thermography, and mammography will detect 95 percent of early stage cancers.
By including thermography for early detection of abnormal patterns of inflammation and new blood vessel growth years before lesions are dense enough to be seen by a mammogram or felt in the tissue, makes preventative health tools and more patient treatment options available.
The best reward for me is giving people peace of mind and knowledge for them to stay the healthiest they can, and I love it.
Anyone interested in adding digital infrared thermal imaging (DITI) into their multimodal screening regiments can contact Spectrum Thermography by visiting www.spectrumthermography.com or calling 480-226-8289 to set up an appointment.
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