Early Breast Cancer Detection and Thermography

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women, and one out of every eight females will receive a breast cancer diagnosis in her lifetime. While great strides have been made in breast cancer treatment in recent decades, the fact remains that early detection of such cancers may still mean the difference between life and death. Thermography is one of the tools used for early breast cancer detection.

As tumors grow, they are more likely to metastasize, spreading the disease throughout the body. When tumors are discovered at an early stage and removed – along with additional therapy such as radiation, chemotherapy and the use of tamoxifen or other medications –the woman has a much higher chance of surviving breast cancer. 


Also known as thermal imaging, thermography has existed for several decades. It is a simple, non-invasive procedure, utilizing a special camera and infrared technology to take photos of the breasts and detect heat. The latter may prove indicative of early breast cancer, long before a woman may feel a lump in her breast. No radiation is involved with thermography.

How Thermography May Detect Early Cancer

The idea behind thermography and tumor detection is based on the fact that cancer cells grow very quickly. As they multiply, blood flow and metabolism rise, causing inflammation and a boost in skin temperature. It is this higher temperature that thermography identifies on the breast’s skin. Thermography cannot detect breast cancer per se, but it can identify excess heat potentially indicative of the early stages of breast cancer.   

However, thermography also has a high rate of both false positives and false negatives, which alarms researchers. Just as women do not want to go through the stress and fear of a false positive, a false negative gives an unwarranted sense of security. 

Not a Mammogram Substitute

In February 2019, the FDA issued a safety communication stating that thermography “should not be used in place of mammography for breast cancer screening or diagnosis.” The FDA notes that mammography is the safest and most effective breast cancer screening tool and the only method that increases survival through early breast cancer detection. Keep in mind that while insurance companies will usually not pay for thermography, they will cover mammograms. 

Thermography vs. Mammograms for Young Women

Since thermography is not considered as reliable for detecting early breast cancer as a mammogram, why should a woman consider having the test done? Changes in mammography screening guidelines have raised the recommended age for an initial mammogram from 40 to 50 for women at average risk of developing breast cancer.

Because pre-menopausal women have denser breasts, mammograms are difficult to interpret in younger females. Mammograms may appear suspicious in as many as half of pre-menopausal women, leading to further testing, including biopsies. For most of these women, cancer is not present. Not only have they undergone unnecessary medical procedures, but they have also had to live with the fear of having cancer for weeks or months until their results come back. 

Women at high risk for breast cancer, such as those with a family history of the disease or who have a BRCA gene mutation, should have mammograms at an earlier age. For the average woman without these risk factors, thermography might indicate early breast cancer, and she can follow up the results with a mammogram for a more definitive diagnosis. 

BRCA Testing for Breast Cancer 

Breast cancer affects approximately one out of every eight women over a lifetime, but some women are more vulnerable than others. The majority of women do not develop breast cancer due to a gene mutation, but between 5 and 10 percent of breast cancer patients do have a mutation of either the BRCA 1 or BRCA 2 genes. Women with BRCA mutations tend toward earlier cancer development than those in the general population. That is why BRCA testing for breast cancer is imperative.

According to the National Cancer Institute, roughly 70 percent of women with these gene mutations will go on to develop breast cancer. BRCA mutations also greatly increase the likelihood of ovarian cancer. Just 1.3 percent of women eventually are diagnosed with ovarian cancer, but if the BRCA mutation is present, as many as 44 percent of those affected will suffer from ovarian cancer.  

BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 Genes

The function of the BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 genes is tumor suppression. These genes produce proteins that repair damaged DNA, but a mutation can mean that such damage goes unrepaired. 

BRCA Testing 

BRCA testing involves the doctor taking a saliva or blood sample from the patient and sending it off to a laboratory for analysis. Expect to receive the test results in about one month. If the tests are positive, meet with a genetic counselor to discuss the results and your options. Keep in mind that if the BRCA tests are negative, that does not mean you will not develop cancer, but that your risks are likely the same as the general population. 

BRCA Candidates

BRCA tests are not standard tests for most women. However, if you have a history of breast or ovarian cancer in your family, or have been diagnosed with these diseases, these tests will reveal whether you have a genetic predisposition toward these types of cancers. 

Risk factors for a BRCA mutation include:

  • Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry
  • Breast cancer diagnosis before age 45
  • Cancer in both breasts
  • Family history

The BRCA mutations also affect men, increasing the risk of prostate and pancreatic cancer. A history of these diseases in close male relatives may indicate BRCA mutations. 

Prophylactic Mastectomy or Oophorectomy 

For those whose BRCA tests come back as positive, you have options going forward. While a positive result does not mean a woman is guaranteed to develop breast or ovarian cancer, it does mean the odds increase significantly. A positive result also means the woman may pass the mutation to her offspring, and that any full siblings have a 50 percent chance of sharing the mutation. 

Women with no sign of the disease may opt for prophylactic mastectomy – surgical removal of the breasts –or oophorectomy, removal of the ovaries. The latter is generally a minimally invasive procedure performed via laparoscopy. If a woman chooses mastectomy, she may have a breast reconstruction procedure started at the same time. 

Although both procedures contain risks, prophylactic mastectomy may reduce breast cancer development by 90 percent, with oophorectomy reducing ovarian cancer development by approximately the same amount. 


12 Top Causes of Breast Cancer

With few exceptions, doctors aren’t really sure what causes breast cancer, a disease affecting one of every eight women over their lifetimes. However, there are various risk factors that can increase the likelihood of developing breast cancer, and some of them are under your control. The bad news is that many of these risk factors are not something you can act on. Here are 12 top causes of breast cancer.

Top Causes of Breast Cancer and Risk Factors 

Genetic Mutation  

Women with a BRCA 1 or BRCA 2 gene mutation have a greater risk of developing breast cancer, but they account for a small percentage of those with the disease. Those with a family history of breast or ovarian cancer should consider BRCA genetic testing. 

Early Menstruation  

Women whose menstrual cycles began before age 12, and in whom menopause was relatively late, are at greater risk for breast cancer due to longer hormonal exposure. 

Increasing Age 

Older women are more likely to develop breast cancer than younger females. Breast cancer is most often diagnosed in women aged 50 and up. 

Alcohol Consumption 

Excessive alcohol consumption can raise the odds of developing breast cancer. 

Previous Breast Cancer 

Unfortunately, if you have been diagnosed with breast cancer once, you are statistically more likely to develop breast cancer again. That also holds true if you were diagnosed with certain other breast conditions, such as atypical hyperplasia. 

Postmenopausal and Overweight 

After menopause and the loss of estrogen as the ovaries shut down, many women experience weight gain. Excess weight in postmenopausal women raises the risk of breast cancer. A healthy diet and good exercise program keeping you at a normal weight improves health overall, in addition to lowering the breast cancer risk. 

Cigarette Smoking 

While cigarettes have long been known to cause lung cancer, smoking also increases the chances of breast cancer development. Quitting smoking is one of the healthiest things you can do for yourself – and you will save a lot of money.

Night Shift Work 

People who work at night rather than standard daytime hours may experience hormonal changes, and there is some evidence that these changes may increase breast cancer risk. 

Chemical Exposure 

There are many chemicals deemed carcinogenic, and breast and other cancers may result from such exposure. 

Reproductive History 

Women who never had children or who did not have their first child until after age 30 are considered at higher risk for breast cancer. If you are a mother but did not breastfeed, that also raises the risk slightly. 

Lack of Physical Activity 

Even if a woman is not overweight, if she is unfit her chances of breast cancer increase. A regular exercise program or daily long walks can help reduce this risk and benefit all aspects of health.

Standard Hormone Replacement Therapy 

The use of standard hormone replacement therapy to reduce menopausal symptoms increases breast cancer risk. Standard estrogen replacement therapy is derived from pregnant mare’s urine. The use of plant-based bioidentical hormone replacement therapy does not raise the risk of breast cancer and may lessen it.