Mammography vs. thermography: which is better for cancer detection?

February 01, 2021 | by Edward-Elmhurst Health

Breast cancer is the second most common cancer among women in the United States. On average, an American woman has a 1 in 8 chance of developing the disease.

Early detection is key to treating breast cancer and improving survival outcomes. That’s why physicians push women to do self-exams regularly and get screened once a year.

Mammograms are the gold standard when it comes to breast cancer screenings. The test is about 87 percent effective in detecting early stage breast cancer.

Mammography creates an X-ray image that can show varying density of tissue in a breast, exposing potential tumors. It can detect small abnormalities within tissue before they can be felt by a self-exam.

Thermography, which creates an image showing patterns of heat on the skin, has been studied to determine if it’s a potentially safer method of detection than mammography. Inflammation in the breast from cancerous tissue could show up on the infrared image as a spot of higher skin temperature.

What’s the verdict? Experts say thermography is not as effective as mammography, and that a mammogram is a woman’s best choice to detect breast cancer at its earliest, most treatable stage.

The Food and Drug Administration says a thermogram should not replace a mammogram, and adds that thermography should only serve as a supplemental tool alongside mammography. The International Academy of Clinical Thermology also states thermography should not replace mammography.

Thermography is less invasive than a mammogram and doesn’t expose women to radiation. But it also is not as sensitive as mammography and will only alert someone to a potential change that should be checked further.

Mammography exposes women to a very low level of radiation, however the benefit of potentially discovering cancer outweighs the risk.

As the American Cancer Society reports, the average total dose of radiation for a typical mammogram with two views of each breast is about 0.4 millisieverts (mSv). People in the United States are normally exposed to about 3 mSv of background radiation each year just from their natural surroundings.

Experts say women at an average risk for breast cancer should get a mammogram once a year starting at age 40. There may be additional screenings your doctor recommends.

Learn more about breast health services at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

You can schedule your own doctor visits and tests online or on the MyEEHealth™ mobile app, 24/7. Schedule a mammogram online.


Get relief from period cramps and PMS

Each month, you know it’s coming. You start to feel irritable, bloated. Then your period strikes and those painful...

Read More

exercise healthy living

COVID-19 one year later: 7 steps to make health a priority

Our struggles and challenges this year remind us about the importance of health — because when it starts to fail, so...

Read More


How to prepare for and handle chemo side effects

Preparing for chemotherapy and the potential side effects that come with it can help clear up uncertainty and ease...

Read More