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FDA: Thermography No Sub For Mammography

June 3, 2011
Written by: , Filed in: Breast Imaging
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The Food and Drug Administration jumped into a lively debate on Thursday by warning women not to use breast thermography instead of mammography to screen for breast cancer.

Thermography produces an infrared image that shows blood flow and patterns of body heat on or near the surface of the body. Some health care providers—and especially some bloggers—say that thermography is superior to mammography for breast-cancer detection because it does not involve radiation or “painful” compression of the breast.

Thermography advocates can be relatively thoughtful. Here’s a random example, discovered after about 30 seconds of Googling.

Others promulgate conspiracy theories and make medical claims that are, to put it politely, dubious. For example, this article on NaturalNews.com bemoans “a lifetime of mind indoctrination and brainwashing by the disease establishment” and asserts, “Scientists who completed a recent study on the effects of mammograms concluded that some of the cancers detected could spontaneously regress if they were not discovered and treated.”

Um, how is it possible to discover that undiscovered cancers can spontaneously regress?

The FDA said in a news release:

The FDA is unaware of any valid scientific evidence showing that thermography, when used alone, is effective in screening for breast cancer.

The release continues: “To date, the FDA has not approved a thermography device (also referred to as a telethermographic device) for use as a stand-alone to screen or diagnose breast cancer. The FDA has cleared thermography devices for use only as an additional diagnostic tool for breast cancer screening and diagnosis.

“Therefore, the FDA says, thermography devices should not be used as a stand-alone method for breast cancer screening or diagnosis.”

The FDA release quotes Helen Barr, MD, director of its Division of Mammographic Quality and Radiation Programs, as saying:

Mammography is still the most effective screening method for detecting breast cancer in its early, most treatable stages. Women should not rely solely on thermography for the screening or diagnosis of breast cancer.

The FDA said it had sent warning letters to health-care providers who had been “promoting the inappropriate use of breast thermography.” The letters “instructed the providers to cease making claims that thermography devices, when used alone, are an effective means of detecting breast cancer.”

The agency encouraged women to “follow their health care provider’s recommendations for additional breast diagnostic procedures, such as various mammographic views, clinical breast exam, breast ultrasound, MRI or biopsy; additional procedures could include thermography.”

The FDA’s attempt to pull everyone back within the boundaries of careful scientific research will, of course, be denounced in some of the more wild-eyed corners of the Internet as an attempt at “mind indoctrination and brainwashing by the disease establishment.” Sigh.

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One Response to “FDA: Thermography No Sub For Mammography”

  1. Paul on June 4th, 2011 at 3:26 pm

    I am amazed to see the Phoenix rise from the ashes. Thermography was regarded as useless when I was in residency in 1977. Anybody who claims otherwise, in the absence of firm irrefutable proof is a charlatan. What we are seeing much of these days is, unfortunately, pseudo-science, attempting to support someone’s agenda, not scientific research. These sorts of claims would have been ignored in the days when real scientists were doing actual research.