Category Archives: Breast Health

Supporting Breast Health Through Thermography

In whatever part of the body excess of heat or cold is felt, disease is there to be discovered.

– Hippocrates, 480 B.C.

My Take on Thermography

Many clients have asked for my opinion on mammograms and whether or not thermograms are a safer option. Unfortunately, there is no one answer I can give to everyone since family history, breast health history, age , and other risk factors (smoking, hormone use, environmental exposure, diet, lifestyle, etc) are all uniquely contributing factors.

What I can do is offer my perspective, provide some basic information. and point you to a list of things you can do to improve breast health and lower risk.

Ultimately, any screening decisions should be made with the help of your physician, but you can be a more proactive participant in this discussion with some education.

Mammography Has Its Place

mammogram
Mammogram of a healthy breast

Mammography is currently the gold standard for breast cancer screening. Unfortunately, it also exposes the breasts to harmful radiation and has limited efficacy in women who are on hormone replacement therapy, or who have enhanced, large, dense or fibrocystic breasts. In most cases it also cannot show areas near the chest wall.

These lifestyle and risk differences do not detract from the accuracy of thermography, so thermography may offer an advantage when combined with other screening methods to improve surveillance. Personally I have chosen to utilize mammography less often and do yearly thermograms because I have fibrocystic breasts.

Criticisms

The biggest criticism of mammograms is the radiation exposure. After all, radiation does cause cancer, so how does it make sense to irradiate breast tissue, as well as surrounding tissues (heart, coronary arteries, lungs, etc)? To put it into perspective, the amount of radiation exposure from a mammogram is approximately what you’d receive on a jet flight across the country. Still, there are genetic and other individual risk factors that can make this a very significant exposure, especially since the radiation exposure is concentrated in specific areas.

Another criticism is the number of cancers detected by mammogram that may have resolved on their own without costly treatments that carry their own risks.  We all make cancer cells every day.  Since most of us have never been diagnosed with cancer, this means our immune systems “cure” cancer every day.

Lastly, there is the controversy over the last several years as to how often and at what age mammograms should be done.

All of these are good talking points to include in a discussion with your healthcare provider as you make the individual decision of when and how often mammograms make sense for you.

What Is A Thermogram?

At a simple level, thermography has a wide application. It is performed using a highly sensitive infrared camera to detect subtle heat differentials. Think about the paranormal TV shows you may have seen when the camera crew is looking for a creature in the woods using a “heat sensor.” Or maybe an inspection you may have had before weather proofing your home. This is basic thermography at work.

thermo
An everyday example of thermography

The Argument for an Alternative

When it comes to breast health, the heat differentials detected by a thermograph allows us to pinpoint areas of increased blood circulation and metabolic activity. So why is that important?

Inflamm Cancer
Breast thermography at work

Because cancerous tumors are known to promote the growth of new vessels to “feed” themselves (angiogenesis),  they are associated with an ever-increasing pattern of rising local temperature. Digital infrared imaging (thermography) is extremely sensitive to these temperature variations and can therefore be a valuable tool in early cancer detection.

Adjunct to Mammography

Most thermography proponents consider it to be an adjunct to mammography and other forms of breast cancer detection, NOT a competitor. This complementary view arises from the basic differences in the technologies: structural imaging tools (mammography, ultrasound, MRI) capture anatomical images, and thermography captures metabolic images. Each of these types of detection tools have their advantages with different types of cancers and in different populations. For instance, not all tumors are visible on a mammogram, and not all tumors are associated with a high level of blood vessel activity.

Because tumors can take 8-10 years to grow to a size detectable by mammogram, thermograms may alert you to a need for preventive intervention.  It can be argued that regular thermography is one of the best ways to assess risk and maintain a proactive awareness of your level of breast health.

For more breast health recommendations, see our post on maintaining or regaining breast health.

Next Steps

As I said in my introduction to this post, all of your diagnostic decisions should be made together with a doctor you trust. If you decide that a thermogram is right for you, it’s important to establish a baseline thermogram to start. An initial thermogram should then be followed up with another in 3-6 months to determine if heat patterns are stable, or if there is a progressive increase in blood flow/heat to a particular area, suggestive of a growing tumor.

A Local, Trusted Practitioner

We are fortunate to have a trusted, experienced thermogram provider here in the Columbus area – Dena E. Johnston RN, MSN, CCT of Ohio Infrared Health, Breast & Body Thermography.

For more information on the services Dena provides, see descriptions, pricing, and FAQs on her website.

If you have concerns about paying for this imaging, Dena suggests checking out the assistance offered by The United Breast Cancer Foundation (UBCF). For a $5 application fee, the UBCF will assist with up to $150 of the cost of your imaging, depending on their current available funding.

 Bonus Time! Some Thermo-History

hipocrates
400 B.C. compared to present day

The FDA approved thermography as an adjunctive diagnostic breast cancer screening procedure in 1982. Interestingly enough, there’s a more natural history to this diagnostic tool. The first recorded use of thermobiological diagnostics can be found in the writings of Hippocrates around 480 BC. A mud slurry spread over the patient was observed for areas that would dry first and was thought to indicate underlying organ or tissue pathology.

Resources Mentioned in this Post

This was quite a bit of information to digest, so just to make sure that the valuable links and points of contact don’t get lost in the shuffle, here they are in one short list:

A Guide to Better Breast Health

Beyond The Mammogram

pink-ribbon3Years of marathons and ad campaigns have taught us all that regular mammograms are an essential tool in the early detection of breast cancer. But what do you know beyond the bumper stickers? Are you familiar with xenoestrogens? What about a thermogram as a non-irradiating, low risk mammogram alternative? What else should you be doing to ensure you’re on the right track when it comes to managing your breast health?

A Place to Start

We’ve put together a helpful guide to address that very question. As you’ll see, many of these strategies would make sense for anyone trying to live a healthier, less toxic lifestyle… while other suggestions are more focused on reducing or minimizing estrogen and other hormone exposure.

Reduce Your Hormone Exposure

  • Eat a diet of organic, whole, fresh foods. This will reduce your exposure to chemicals/xenoestrogens (xenoestrogens are chemicals that mimic estrogens and increase risk of hormone-fed cancers).
  • Drink clean, filtered water. This will help reduce exposure to xenoestrogens, drug residues and chemicals.
  • Limit or avoid hormonal contraceptive or synthetic hormone use.
  • Never take estrogen- , testosterone-, or DHEA-containing hormones without progesterone to balance them. Even in women who have had hysterectomies, breast tissue is still vulnerable to imbalance caused by “unopposed” estrogen or androgen use.

Upgrade Your Intake

  • Consume foods and spices rich in antioxidants (kale, berries, curcumin/turmeric, basil, etc).
  • Regularly consume dark, leafy greens. They are a rich source of antioxidants, chlorophyll and activated folate – all important in promoting optimal detoxification and lowering cancer risk.
  • Eat a single serving of cruciferous vegetables daily. This reduces your risk of many types of cancer, including breast cancer. Examples of cruciferous vegetables include broccoli, cauliflower, arugula, brussel sprouts, bok choy, cabbage, collard greens, daikon, kale, kohlrabi, mustard greens, radish, rutabaga, and watercress.
  • Make omega-3 fatty acids a regular part of your diet to lower/prevent inflammation. Good sources include salmon, mackerel, walnuts, flax, and fish oil.
  • Avoid vegetable oils (sunflower, safflower, soy or corn oil) as these are easily damaged by light, oxygen and heat, making them harmful and inflammatory in the body.
  • For cooking – ghee, coconut, grapeseed, and olive oils are best. Use olive oil liberally, but avoid heating to high temperatures (add at end of cook time or use in salad dressings, cold foods).
  • Avoid eating charred meat or fat. This is a source of heterocyclic amines (HCAs), which are known to promote breast tumor formation. Even without charring, high heat will produce HCAs.
  • Avoid refined carbohydrates and sugar. These compromise gastrointestinal health and hamper the ability to clear toxins and estrogen.
  • Avoid processed foods or items grown with chemicals/pesticides or GMOs. These contribute to overall toxicity, inflammation and cancer risk.
  • Choose pastured, free-range poultry and eggs, grass-fed beef/buffalo/bison and wild caught fish to avoid estrogenic compounds and other toxins.
  • Aim for 20-30 grams of fiber per day. Fiber binds toxins and hormones carrying them out of the body, and provides food for “friendly” bacteria in the gut that help metabolize estrogen.
  • Optimize vitamin D. A serum level of 60-70 is ideal, and in my practice, I find the average dose necessary for Ohio adults is 5000 IU per day, though be sure to check levels to avoid toxicity or under-dosing. There are small sub-sets of patients who need more or less than average.
  • Ensure optimal iodine and selenium levels (I utilize a dried urine iodine test with my patients that assesses iodine, selenium, mercury, bromine and arsenic levels, all key factors in thyroid, breast and total body wellness).
  • Limit alcohol intake as much as possible—alcohol competes with liver clearance of estrogens.

Kick Caffeine

  • Opt for green tea over black tea. Green tea contains approximately 4 times the amount of polyphenols and has less caffeine than black tea (caffeine content may vary).
  • Minimize caffeine – it competes for liver clearance of estrogen. Also, avoid conventionally grown (non-organic) coffee – it is often heavily sprayed with chemicals and pesticides that are estrogen mimics.

Lifestyle and Daily Practice

  • Exercise strenuous enough to cause perspiration for 20 minutes at least 5 times weekly has been shown to reduce the risk of breast cancer by 40% (exercise encourages healthy lymph flow/toxin removal and helps balance blood sugar and hormones, all factors in breast health).
  • If you have a sedentary job, make it a habit to move/walk/stretch for 2+ minutes every hour.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Pregnancy and breastfeeding both lower the risk of breast cancer.
  • Optimize your sleep and minimize light exposure at night, which decreases melatonin.
  • Melatonin has antioxidant properties and has been shown to be helpful in breast and hard tumor cancers. If you’ve been diagnosed w/breast cancer, consider 20mg of melatonin nightly.
  • Practice stress reduction (meditation, yoga, breathing, recreational activities, etc).
  • Consider daily breast massage with castor or sesame oil or dry skin brushing (always toward the heart) to help mobilize lymph and drain toxins, fats and excess hormones. Breast tissue is mainly composed of fat, so has less blood flow than other parts of the body.
  •  Address constipation if you are not having at least 2 bowel movements daily. The bowels are the most important channel of toxin and estrogen elimination.
  • Don’t smoke.
  • Avoid antiperspirants since sweating provides a channel for toxin elimination from the breast area, and instead opt for deodorants free of aluminum, parabens and xenoestrogens.
  • Optimize lymph flow (lymph flow removes toxins from the breast area) by wearing a comfortable and non-restrictive bra. Do not wear your bra to bed.

Resources

Check out the our lab testing menu for more information on the lab testing available through Leaves of Life.

See the Leaves of Life blog post on thermograms and breast health for more information on thermograms, including a local thermography provider plus a comparison of thermograms and mammograms.