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Thermography: The First-Step in Breast Screening

What is Breast Thermography?

by Dr. Verna Hunt

Breast Thermography is a medical technique used extensively in other countries including Japan, France, Sweden, as a first-line screening procedure assessing breast health. In order for solid mass cancer tumours to grow the circulation of the area changes to be out of the control of the central nervous system so that the heating and cooling becomes abnormal and detectable with highly advanced infrared cameras. A digital infrared-sensing camera and high-speed computer are used to measure heat radiated from the breasts and adjacent areas. To distinguish normal from abnormal tissue function, the hands are immersed in cold water to provide a cold challenge to the whole body and the scan is then repeated. Normal cells will show a decrease in heat production while cells with increased cellular activity (e.g. cancer cells) will maintain or increase their heat radiation. A highly skilled thermology reader analyzes the before-and-after-cold-challenge scans and to write a thermology report which establishes a graded scale of response in the breast tissue.

What can Thermography provide that Mammograms can't?

Because mammograms detect structural changes, a lump or mass of a size detectable on X-ray is already present in breast tissue by the time a problem is found. The next step is further investigation by ultrasound and/or biopsy to diagnose the nature of the lump or mass, and to make treatment decisions. At this point, it is often too late to implement preventive strategies alone and medical intervention is the norm or treatment.

In comparison, Breast Thermography detects functional changes in breast tissue before tumours form and when the tumours are too small to be detected with X-rays. This is done without radiation, compression, contact or needles. Unlike mammograms, thermography can be used for women of all ages and with all types of breast tissue: young, dense, pregnant, breastfeeding, pre- and post-menopausal, fibrocystic, with breast implants, and when on HRT.

Because breast Thermography is particularly useful during early phases of rapid tumour growth that is not yet detectable by clinical exam or mammograms, it has the potential to detect problems five to eight years before abnormalities can be seen with mammograms. This early detection of abnormal tissue activity makes Breast Thermography extremely useful and cost-effective as a screening strategy and gives the opportunity to apply non-invasive therapies to improve breast tissue function. The non-invasive nature of thermography also allows for repeat scans. This improves the ability to compare changes over time and monitor the results of preventive strategies to protect breast tissue.

What can you expect during a Thermography Breast Scan?

Preparation: After filling out a breast history form, you will be asked to undress to the waist in a private dressing room to allow your breasts to cool to room temperature (18-22 o C) for about 15 minutes.

  • Scanning: You will be asked to stand about 10 feet in front of the camera with your arms over your head while three images are taken: front, right side and left side.
  • Cold Challenge: You will be asked to place both hands in cold water at 10 o C for one minute.
  • Rescanning: The three scans will be repeated.
  • Reporting: The Thermography Breast Scans will be read and analyzed using international regulated standards by Dr. Phil Hoekstra, PhD of Detroit, and a highly trained and skilled member of the American Academy of Thermology with over 25 years of experience.

What will the report tell you and your health care provider?

A full thermology report with a colour copy of your thermography results will be sent to you and/or your health care provider by mail in approximately one month. The international standardized grading system used in the report is called the Marseille System of Classification, which provides strict criteria for rating Breast Thermography scans. The scans are reported on a scale of TH-1 to TH-5

  • TH-1: normal tissue
  • TH-2: some changes in tissue i.e. fibrocystic, but normal response to cold challenge
  • TH-3: suspicious tissue activity with areas not responding to the cold challenge and maintaining higher heat areas
  • TH-4: abnormal tissue activity with areas not responding to the cold challenge and maintaining higher heat areas
  • TH-5: severely abnormal tissue activity with areas not responding to the cold challenge and maintaining higher heat areas.

Level TH-1provides reassurance that the tissue activity is normal and that the appropriate follow-up is screening by thermography in one year. Level Th-2 indicates that tissue did respond normally to the cold challenge and tissue health can be improved through preventive therapies. Level TH-3 indicates that close monitoring through ultra sound and professional examination are advised and preventive therapies are needed. Levels TH-4 & TH-5 require immediate referral for ultrasound exam on the areas specifically located by the Breast Thermography along with professional examination and other screening methods as indicated and appropriate preventive therapies.

Where can I have a Breast Thermography Exam done?

MedTherm will be providing breast-screening clinics twice per month at the West End Holistic Health Centre, 2826 Dundas St. W., Toronto every 2 weeks on an ongoing basis. The testing is available to anyone who is interested. Appointments can be made by calling MedTherm at 416-440-2599. Dates for Outreach Clinics held in many locations throughout Canada can be seen on MedTherm's web site  as well as how to organize a clinic in your community.

For more information on Breast Thermography, see  and

Contact Sue Richards at [email protected]

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