Breast thermography uses infrared light waves to measure temperatures across the breasts. Different rates of chemical activity and blood flow can alter tissue temperatures; abnormalities such as breast tumors, may cause minute increases in temperature, or "hot spots."
Some research indicates that thermography may be a valuable screening tool to detect early-stage breast cancer; however, large scientific studies have not yet been done. Mammography is still considered the most reliable and cost-effective imaging test for the early detection of breast cancer. Thermography may be used as a complement to regular mammograms and breast exams by a doctor to monitor breast health.
Purpose of the Breast Thermography
- To screen for precancerous changes of the breast and early-stage breast cancer
- To detect the subtle changes in the body that can indicate a health concern such as cancer, infection or fibrocystic disease.
Who Performs It
A technician trained in thermography performs this test.
This test has a significant rate of false-positives—meaning that it reveals hot spots when no problem exists—since heat fluctuations can result from a variety of physical changes unrelated to cancer (for example, skin lesions, cysts, or inflammation).
Before the Breast Thermography
- Avoid sun exposure to your breasts for up to 10 days.
- Avoid alcohol, coffee, smoking, and exercise for 3 to 4 hours before the procedure.
- Do not bathe any later than 1 hour before the test, and do not apply any lotions or powders to your breasts prior to the exam.
What You Experience
- You will enter a temperature-controlled imaging room, where you will remove your clothing above the waist and wait 5 to 10 minutes with your breasts exposed to room temperature. This stabilizes the temperature of your breasts and increases the accuracy of the test.
- You will be instructed to hold your hands above your head or on your knees.
- A special infrared camera takes photographs of your breasts from 3 or 4 angles.
- The test takes less than 15 minutes.
Risks and Complications
After the Breast Thermography
- You may be asked to wait while the films are developed to ensure they are readable.
- A physician will examine the thermographic images for evidence of hot spots, asymmetry between breasts, or other abnormalities.
- If no abnormality is found, no further testing is necessary. Depending on your age and individual circumstances, your doctor may recommend periodic mammography and physical exams to monitor your breast health.
- If a problem is identified, your doctor may recommend further evaluation with mammography or breast ultrasound.
The Johns Hopkins Consumer Guide to Medical Tests
Simeon Margolis, M.D., Ph.D., Medical Editor
Updated by Remedy Health Media