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.

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