A Key for Early Detection
Early detection of imbalances in the body can prompt lifestyle adjustments that may prevent a slew of health issues. Thermography, or thermal imaging, looks at heat differentiation in the body to track abnormalities. “The camera is reading the body’s radiation,” says Ann Barker, BSN, RN,
According to the International Association of Medical Thermographers (IAMT), thermography can be rooted back to the time of the pyramids. Documents from as early as 1700 B.C. have associated temperature with disease, and primitive forms of thermography were put in use by 400 B.C. In the words of Hippocrates, “In whatever part of the body excess of heat or cold is felt, the disease is there to be discovered.”
While thermography is commonly associated with breast health and breast cancer prevention, it can also be used for early-stage disease screening and pain diagnostics. “It can be veryvalidating for patients because it can show an area where someone has experienced pain,” says Susan Shaw Saari Lic.Ac., CCT, of Metrowest Thermal Imaging, in Shrewsbury and Waltham. “It also is a good visual for what they are experiencing.”
X-rays, CT scans, ultrasound and magnetic resonance scans may sometimes not pick up on pain, as they measure the structure of the body, rather than the temperature. Thermography can supplement these tests to provide a more holistic view, thereby opening the opportunity to address arthritis, artery inflammation, digestive disorder, vascular disease, carpal tunnel syndrome, lymphatic congestion, hormonal imbalance, disc disease, inflammatory pain, breast cancer and skin cancer in the early stages.
Thermography is a painless, non-invasive and non-contact test that does not expose the patient to radiation. The process involves disrobing either from the waist up for breast imaging, or completely for full-body imaging, and relaxing in an exam room with a controlled temperature for 15 minutes so the body may reach a stable temperature. For the next 15 minutes or so, a trained clinical thermographer uses a sensitive, high-speed and high resolution medical digital camera to take thermal images of the body and send clear, detailed data to a computer. According to the IAMT, “A healthy body is expected to be thermally symmetrical. The Interpreting Physicians are looking for signs of significant asymmetry.”
Women are increasingly concerned about the limitations and potential dangers of mammograms. According to the National Cancer Institute (NIH), harms may include false-positive results, false-negative results, radiation exposure, and over diagnosis and over treatment. “A report by NIH has admitted that millions are being treated for breast cancer who don’t even have it,” says Barker. “Doctors are treating non-cancer or pre-cancer situations the same way as full-blown cancer with surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.” Additionally, repeated radiation exposure has the potential to cause and exacerbate cancer.
“With thermography, we are looking at breast health and tracking the health of the breast over time,” says Karen L. Kelleher, BSBA, MA, CCT, President of Boston Thermography Center. “This gives a woman an opportunity to make lifestyle changes if necessary to improve her breast health, and we have cases we are continuing to track and see improvements.”
The other issue is women are not advised to have a mammogram until 40 to 50 years of age. “One of my best friendswas diagnosed with breast cancer at 32 and doctors said that it had been growing for more than eight years,” says Kelleher. Thermographers urge women to be tested non-invasively with thermography starting in their early 20s to get a baseline and track the health of the breast over time. “Instead we were waiting for a tumor to grow to a size big enough to be felt or detected by mammograms,” Kelleher says. “I have often wondered if my friend’s life could have been saved if she had an opportunity to find out earlier that changes were happening in her breasts.” This question was a large basis for Kelleher having become a thermography technician.
Regardless of age and gender, individuals are encouraged to go for a thermography scan. “I have screened patients from age 18 to 90,” says Barker, “from people who know nothing about healthy living to those who already eat organically, juice, do yoga, practice meditation and see a naturopath regularly.”
Many people learn of thermography via friends and family, says Saari. “Their eyes open up because they never knew there was such a thing. I get the most patients from word of mouth; people get very excited to tell others ‘it’s awesome you need to try it!’.” Kelleher adds, “We need to have an awareness of how all these areas in our life can affect the balance in our bodies and be the cause of disease.”
Gina Cronin is a writer for Natural Awakenings magazine.