Popular breast cancer test 'unproven'

By Martin Johnston

Infrared thermal imaging. Photo / Supplied
Infrared thermal imaging. Photo / Supplied

Health authorities are warning women against thermal imaging for breast cancer detection and one expert even says the industry should be shut down.

Thermal imaging or thermography is growing in popularity among women for early detection of breast cancer. A national chain, Clinical Thermography, says some of its clinics are booked months in advance for screening checks that cost $199.

But the Health Ministry and several cancer and medical groups, including the College of Radiologists, yesterday released a statement saying they don't support the use of thermography for breast cancer screening or diagnosis "because there is insufficient evidence to do so".

College representative Dr Mike Baker, an Auckland radiologist, said last night that the industry should be closed down - "because there's no scientific evidence to support thermography".

"Increasingly, I am seeing women with breast cancer who have had a clear thermogram. I am also seeing women told following a thermogram that they are likely to have breast cancer, when they don't.

This is also extremely distressing."

Dr Julia Peters, of the ministry's National Screening Unit, said: "We are concerned that women who undergo thermography may delay visiting their doctor with a significant breast cancer symptom, or not have a mammogram because they believe thermography is an adequate replacement."

She urged women aged 45 to 69 to participate in the national breast screening programme, which is based on screening by mammogram x-rays.

"Unlike thermography, breast screening offered as part of this programme is proven to reduce a woman's risk of dying of breast cancer, and is free to all eligible women."

The Clinical Thermography website says thermography does not replace mammography.

Mike Godfrey, a Tauranga-based "consultant" with the chain, who gave up his registration as a medical practitioner when he turned 70, two-and-a-half years ago, dismissed yesterday's statement. "They have been very selective in their references. They have chosen to disregard the published research in the mainstream." Cancer Society spokeswoman Sarah Penno said a 2003 independent review of the international literature concluded there was not enough evidence to support thermography for population screening, or as a diagnostic tool for detecting breast cancer.

It was neither recommended nor used in the Australian, British or European breast cancer screening programmes.

HOW IT WORKS

* Thermography involves taking an image of the breast with an infrared camera.
* Computer software is used to detect temperature variations in breast tissue.
* Supporters say these variations may be the earliest signs of breast cancer.
* Health Ministry says there is insufficient evidence to support its use for screening or diagnosis.

- NZ Herald

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