Monday, May 25, 2015

Breast Health: Take Control (Part 2)

Last month in Part 1 of this two-part series, I talked about the early warning indicators that breasts often provide when something within the body is out of balance. I also discussed the importance of uncompromised lymphatic flow with respect to reducing one’s breast cancer risk, and how brassieres are one of the top contributors to lymphatic flow restriction. I continue below by discussing what options women have for early detection, methods for prevention, and additional steps to take for continued good breast health.

Screening Options
There are a number of tests available to screen women for their breast health. Most commonly, conventional doctors recommend mammography. Ultrasound, 3D mammography and MRI scans are now also used. Interestingly, most conventional doctors do not endorse the use of thermography, which is infrared imaging of the breasts; however, thermography is widely used around the world and has a long history of use in Europe.

What’s the difference between mammography and thermography?
The difference between thermography and mammography is simple. Mammography is able to diagnose changes in the anatomy, or physical structure, of the breast tissues. Specifically, mammography identifies masses, density of the breast tissue, and microcalcifications. These anatomic changes result from chronic physiologic changes in the breasts. The most common finding of a mammography is “dense breast tissue”. 50% of younger women have dense breasts. Dense breasts increase the risk of breast cancer to some degree. They also make it harder to interpret mammograms. In other words, it is harder to see a breast cancer lurking within dense breast tissue. Abnormal mammograms are a call to action; usually in the form of more mammograms, other tests, and biopsies.

Thermography, on the other hand, examines the physiology, or the health, of the breast tissues. Specifically, it utilizes a change in the predicted pattern of heat in the breasts to identify hot spots where there may be either early cancer or inflammation, or both. Remember; where there is inflammation, there is increased risk of cancer. Thermography does not diagnose cancer. It detects increased heat in an area, signifying a physiological change. Physiological changes in tissue ALWAYS precede anatomic changes. Thermography picks up abnormalities in the breasts five to eight years before mammography.

To repeat; changes in the functioning health of a single breast cell or of the breast tissue always precede anatomic changes. Thermography can pick up an abnormality when there are fewer than 300 abnormal breast cells; even that early, those wayward cells are increasing the heat locally. On the other hand, it takes more than 4 billion abnormal cells to be detected by a mammogram. Detection via mammogram may take up to five to eight years later than a thermogram, depending upon the doubling time of a breast tumor. So there is more lead time to correct those factors that may be increasing the risk of breast cancer.

Does thermography pick up all breast cancer? Does mammography pick up all breast cancer?
Neither screening modality can detect all breast cancer. Period. Mammograms may miss fast-growing tumors. Thermography may miss very slow-growing tumors. Slow-growing tumors may never develop to the point that they are problem for a woman.

This is true also of prostate cancers. It is estimated that 90% of men over age 70 have prostate cancer, but not all of them are treated for it. We have learned in the past decade that many men suffer from urinary incontinence, impotency and chronic pain because of overaggressive treatment of small prostate cancers that would never have bothered them. The same holds true for many breast cancers. They may not need to be treated aggressively.

In large-breasted women, thermography may miss problems that are deep within the breast. In such cases, and especially for high-risk patients, using the both screening procedures in conjunction is appropriate. That said, a 2008 study at New York Presbyterian Hospital-Cornell found that Breast Thermography (Digital infrared thermal imaging (DITI),had a 97% sensitivity in discovering malignancies; the use of a digital infrared camera identified 58 out of 60 malignancies in breast tissue. The authors reported that DITI is especially useful in women with dense breasts.

As with an abnormal mammogram, an abnormal thermogram is a call to action. The woman will be encouraged to follow-up with her family doctor or OB/GYN, or with the physician who performed the thermography. A breast exam and assessment of risk factors for breast cancer should be included in this follow-up visit. A mammogram, ultra-sound or MRI may then be ordered at this stage if there is a high suspicion of breast cancer; if the suspicion is low the woman will be encouraged to implement a Healthy Breast Lifestyle for several months, and then repeat the thermogram. Most of the time, the hot spot will have either disappeared or stabilized, signifying that it is not a cancerous growth.