You’ve probably seen video recorded at night showing police chasing a suspect, or soldiers seeking the enemy, or maybe even wildlife agents tracking poachers. In many of these situations what you saw was video from thermal, or “infrared” imagers. Even with absolutely no visible light, these devices allow us to see things merely by the energy they emit or reflect. They are completely passive, meaning they don’t use any projected radiation such as x-rays or ultrasound. Wouldn’t it be great if these wonders could be used in medicine? They can and they are!
While the military were the first to pursue applications for infrared technology, the medical community was not far behind. In fact, did you know that infrared technology has been approved for breast cancer screening by the FDA since 1985? Let me tell you a little about this fascinating technology and why it’s so valuable for breast cancer screening.
Believe it or not, even unwanted structures such as tumors, depend upon the circulatory system. They cannot grow without the same supplies as the rest of our cells. They also need to have their “waste” removed. In order to grow, they send a message to the circulatory system that requests “utility service.”
Blood flowing through our circulatory system causes adjacent tissue to warm. This temperature elevation can actually be “seen” at the surface of the skin through the use of infrared imaging. A tumor requests “service” from the “utility company” when it is still very, very small. Any extra blood flow will generate a “hot spot.”
The human body can constrict blood vessels to prevent heat loss. Surely you’ve felt your hands and feet get cold at one time or another. If you are exposed to a cool environment, your autonomic nervous system activates blood vessel constriction to prevent damage to vital organs. Likewise, if exposed to a warmer environment these vessels are dilated to allow heat to dissipate. New blood vessels, however, do not have the muscle fibers present to provide the constriction.
The protocol employed at Forum Health Knoxville has been tried and proven over decades. It involves taking images before and after a cold-water “challenge.” This allows the interpreting physician to witness blood vessel response. If the vessels in an area of interest do not respond to the challenge, they may be supporting a new growth, or tumor.
The majority of all breast biopsies reveal a benign condition and biopsies aren’t widely reported as being fun. Why go through such a procedure when you can wait and watch? Many tumors are treated quite effectively by our own body’s defense mechanisms. If you have indications supporting the presence of a tumor, infrared thermography will allow you to monitor the area without any invasion or radiation. A needle biopsy actually punctures the tumor – do you really want a hole to expose your entire body to the cells from within a tumor?
A traditional mammogram exerts around 120 pounds of pressure on the breast. Tumors can burst with as little as 40 pounds of force. The force employed in Digital Infrared Thermal Imaging (DITI) is exactly 0 pounds. Nothing and no one touches your breast during an infrared imaging session. And the only pain you will feel is the “pain” of placing your hands in cold water for 60 seconds.
Most doctors, and all major breast health organizations, advise against mammograms before age 40. Why? The benefit of early detection does not outweigh the risk of radiation exposure. Breast cancer is a terrible disease, and early detection is vital to a healthy prognosis. How can we screen early without the radiation exposure? DITI.
So who is DITI really for? Everyone, but particularly those with a family history of breast cancer, under age 50, with implants, and with fibrocystic breasts. Will you escape mammograms forever? Maybe not. They will always have a role in medicine. But they should complement DITI. If DITI indicates a possible tumor, and it grows with time, mammograms and biopsies may be necessary tests prior to treatment. But DITI can allow you to track your breast health actively without putting yourself at risk. For upcoming Thermography dates or to schedule an appointment, contact Forum Health Knoxville at (865)675-9355.
This guest post was provided by Raymond Crews. Raymond is a partner at Infrared Services LLC. As an instructor pilot in the Air Force Reserve, he taught and utilized infrared technology to pinpoint targets with minimum collateral damage. On recognizing the potential for other applications, he and his business partners realized a largely unmet opportunity in the field of medicine. His company provides equipment and trained technicians to capture images and a licensed doctor with decades of experience in the field reviews every report. It is his desire to provide a service that helps detect and monitor potential problems as early as possible without any possibility of adding to the danger some conditions present.