Question

Are thermography and ultrasounds safe and beneficial alternatives for mammograms? How accurate are they and what information do they provide?

Answer

Thermography is a radiation-free imaging technique that creates a picture based on the temperature differences in the tissue being examined. Cancerous areas tend to be warmer because they typically have a higher level of blood flow and metabolism, and in this way thermographic devices can detect breast cancer. While this claim is sometimes true, some cancerous cells do not give off additional heat, and some that do are often located too deep within the tissue to register in the thermography screening. These factors contribute to a high number of both false positive and false negative thermographic readings. According to the FDA, there is currently no support for thermography to be adopted as an alternative to traditional mammography, which is still the most accurate method of breast cancer detection. However, some individuals at a high risk for developing breast cancer may choose to use thermography in conjunction with mammography for maximum detection.

A breast ultrasound can be used to determine whether a breast lump is solid or filled with fluid. However, like thermography, this method is not a good screening tool for breast cancer due to the increased likelihood of false positive and false negative results. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, a breast ultrasound is not recommended as a stand-alone cancer screening method as is does not always detect early signs of cancer, such as microcalcifications (tiny calcium deposits). While an ultrasound does not replace the need for a mammogram, it can often be used in conjunction with a mammogram to further test abnormalities.

There are pros and cons to each screening method outlined above. When considering which option to use, your doctor can help you determine the best one for you based on your medical history. For more information on mammography screenings, read our fact sheet.


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