Right Breast Imaging

By: Dr. Timothy Gormley, Radiologist, Columbia Basin Imaging

Put simply, medicine is just the art of using what works to help patients. By patients, I mean people – you, me, our neighbors, and our families. Because these people are loved and important, good medicine right is an absolute ethical requirement. It’s a duty we owe those we care for. As a radiologist, an x-ray doc, I use imaging to do this every day. Regarding my trade, all imaging isn’t equal. This brings me to thermal imaging. Put simply, medicine is just the art of using what works to help patients. By patients, I mean people – you, me, our neighbors, and our families. Because these people are loved and important, good medicine right is an absolute ethical requirement. It’s a duty we owe those we care for. As a radiologist, an x-ray doc, I use imaging to do this every day. Regarding my trade, all imaging isn’t equal. This brings me to thermal imaging.

It’s often sold as alternative medicine. In my opinion, there’s really no such thing as alternative medicine. There’s just medicine that works and medicine that doesn’t. Using the good and avoiding the bad is what good doctors are expected to do. It’s also true that there are an awful lot of ways to do medicine wrong. A lot of good people make their living providing good care, but there are others that also make their living on care that isn’t known to be any good.
That brings me to thermal mammograms. There’s no good evidence they do any good by themselves1 or add any benefit to the mammograms every woman needs at and after age 40.

Yes, I’ve seen the same internet sites, written by folks who make claims of cure and benefit without any science to support them. Even if something seems like it should be so, that’s not knowing so. We sort out good medicine from bad by this testing. That’s what science is about. It’s not degrees or authority, but it is always about preventing harm using evidence. Evidence based medicine allows us to do that reliably.

Mammography is far from perfect. There are far too many false positives and it can be uncomfortable. At the same time, cancers are often hidden by dense tissue. You have to screen a lot of people to find some cancers and save some lives. Even with the best people and best technology, cancers can go undetected. Although the technology gets better every year, we have a long way to go. Even so, we are finding cancers earlier. More and more women are surviving from their cancer. Not perfect, by far, but mammography does proven good and is getting better all the time.

In contrast, women who rely on thermal mammograms put themselves at added risk. Thermal mammograms distract women from the care they really need. Early cancers grow unless stopped. Thermal mammograms aren’t known by evidence to help. Bad information leads to delay. Too much, and it can be too late. There is no good evidence that taking a temperature map of a woman’s breast does that. Thermometers have their place in medicine, and this isn’t it.

I’m an x-ray doc who cares about patients, the fellow human beings that I’m supposed to look out for. We all should care about excellence and professionalism in medical imaging. My fellow radiologists and I hope you turn away from unproven claims. A tumor missed because of this wrong imaging is avoidable2.

1. https://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm257499.htm
2 http://www.nbcbayarea.com/news/local/Thermography-Breast-Cancer-Claims-Can-Be-Misleading-214858881.html

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