Most women are familiar with mammography as our "gold standard" for breast cancer screening. However, there are additional tools available that women can add to their arsenal.
One of the most effective tools in breast cancer screening is breast self-exam (BSE). However, BSE works best when women are appropriately trained in the procedure, and then followed-up with annual clinical breast exams (CBE) from their physicians. In a 2000 University of Toronto study, approximately 20,000 women were screened for breast cancer with BSE and annual CBE, and 20,000 were screened with BSE and mammograms. After more than 10 years, the BSE and annual CBE reported 610 cases of invasive breast cancer, and 105 deaths. In the BSE and mammogram group, there were 622 cases of invasive breast cancer and 107 deaths. Without question, the first line of defense against breast cancer begins with diligent BSE.
Other tools that are available to women include the AMAS (anti-malignan antibody screen) test and the NMP Nuclear matrix protein) test. Both these are blood tests that measure a certain protein in the blood that may indicate cancer. The AMAS test has been around for several years while the NMP test has not been available until only recently. Clinical trials continue in this area.
One additional tool that may detect an issue early is digital infrared thermal imaging or DITI. In 1982, the FDA approved thermography as an adjunctive tool for breast cancer screening. DITI measures heat emitted from the body and is accurate to 1/100th of a degree. DITI examines physiology, NOT structure. It is in this capacity that DITI can monitor breast HEALTH over time and alert a patient or physician to a developing problem; possibly before a lump can be seen on X-ray or palpated clinically. There are no test limitations such as breast density. DITI is a non-invasive test that does not emit radiation.
The unique characteristics of cancer allow DITI to detect breast cancer at an earlier stage of growth. As cancer is developing, it builds its own blood supply which is then reflected as increased heat in that particular region of the breast. DITI has a specificity of 83%; which reflects a problem in its early stages of development not late-stage cancer as in mammography. An abnormal thermogram carries a 10-times greater risk for cancer and a persistently abnormal thermogram carries a 22-times greater risk for cancer.
Clinical research studies continue to support thermography's role as an adjunctive tool in breast cancer screening and the ONLY tool that measures breast health over time. There are now more than 800 publications on over 300,000 women in clinical trials. A recent finding published in the American Journal of Radiology in 2003 showed that thermography has 99% sensitivity in identifying breast cancer with single examinations and limited views. Scientists concluded that a negative thermogram is powerful evidence that cancer is not present.
Thermographic screening is not covered by most insurance companies but is surprisingly affordable for most people. For more information or to find a certified clinic in your area, go to www.proactivehealthonline.com.
Brenda Witt is co-owner of Proactive Health Solutions in Southern California. She is an American College of Clinical Thermology (ACCT) certified thermographer in the Orange County area.