Search This Blog

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

A New Tool in the Fight Against Breast Cancer

By Tracy Thomas

Image courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org
Breast Cancer – Just saying the term out loud makes women cringe with good reason.  More than 250,000 women are expected to be diagnosed with breast cancer this year.  More than 40,000 deaths were caused by breast cancer in 2015 alone.   With those sobering statistics in mind, it’s obvious that early detection is the best defense against this scourge. 

Breast cancer is caused by unregulated cell growth that most commonly presents as a small lump.  The good news is that not all lumps are cancerous.  Lumps that are painful, moveable and soft are usually benign, while those that are painless, hard and fixed are more likely to be cancerous.  Detection of a lump isn’t a reason to panic.  Most lumps are not caused by cancer.  Fluid filled cysts and non-cancerous tumors can form in the breasts. 


That fact notwithstanding, it is crucial that anytime you detect a lump, you schedule a breast exam with your physician.  The AMA recommends that women over the age of 20 should have a breast exam every three years.  Women over the age of 40 are advised to have a breast exam and a mammogram annually.  Despite this fact, 1 in 8 women in the US is expected to develop breast cancer during their lifetime.  Their survival is directly attributed to how swiftly a tumor is detected.  The earlier that detection takes place, the better the options for treatment and the lower the mortality rate. 

The Five Stages of Breast Cancer

As with other malignancies, breast cancer progresses through a number of stages. Stage 0 ductal carcinoma is a non-invasive cancer characterized by abnormal cells being confined to the milk duct.  This early form of breast cancer is highly treatable; provided treatment takes place before it spreads to the surrounding tissue.

Image by commons.wikimedia.org
Stage 0 lobular carcinoma is not considered a cancer, despite its designation.  It is characterized by the growth of abnormal but non-invasive cells that form in the lobules.  If you are diagnosed with this condition, your physician may prescribe hormone therapy as a preventative action to prevent cancer cells from forming.

Stage 1 breast cancer is characterized as being contained to the area where the abnormal cells first originated.  It is further characterized as being less than 2 centimeters in size. Just as in Stage 0, Stage 1 breast cancer is very treatable and survivable.   Even at this stage, cancer usually does require surgery and possibly radiation treatment.   However, neither Stage 0 nor Stage 1 cancers usually require chemotherapy.

By Stage 2, the tumor, which could reach 2-5 centimeters in size, is still contained in the breast or has only spread to a maximum of 4 lymph nodes.  Although Stage 2 breast cancer may require more aggressive treatment as opposed to Stage 0 or 1, it usually responds well to treatment. 

Stage 3 means the cancer has spread beyond the breast to the lymphatic system and/or the muscles of the chest, but it has not yet metastasized to the organs.  By this stage, the tumor itself may have grown to the size of a lime or larger.  Stage 3 treatment options can vary widely to include anything from hormone treatment or chemotherapy to radiation or mastectomy. 

If the breast cancer progresses to Stage 4, it is known as metastatic cancer that has spread to other parts of the body, such as the bones, lungs, liver or brain.  Currently, Stage 4 breast cancer is considered incurable, although, in 94% of cases, it typically occurs several years after breast cancer is diagnosed.  

Early Detection is Key

Since early detection of breast cancer is the key to treatment and survivability, let’s look at the detection methods currently in use.  Breast self-examination, while helpful, is only able to detect lumps that have reached 1 centimeter (pea sized) or larger. Mammograms, which can detect even smaller tumors, is a technology that is far from perfect.  Known to have a false negative rate of 10% where cancerous cells go undetected and a false positive rate of 7%, where healthy patients are referred for more invasive testing, mammography is intended to examine a large population base.  As such, it has a built-in sensitivity that was designed to detect a useful proportion of cancers.  To make the testing more sensitive would not only be more expensive but also more problematic since mammography relies on x-rays to create images.

Image courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org

Radiation exposure has always been a potential risk of using mammography as a screening tool, especially in younger women. This is the reason why most radiologists will not perform a mammogram on women below the age of 40.  Often the use of ultrasound or MRI will be used to screen women younger than 40 who have a significant risk of developing breast cancer.  While these three screening tools have their uses, they are all designed to detect existing tumors. 



Digital Thermal Imaging

What if there was a non-invasive screening tool that could detect tumors too small to be detected by mammography, or even pre-cancerous conditions that existed in the breast? Even better, what if the testing didn’t rely on any form of ionizing radiation to function? This is what Digital Thermal Imaging, otherwise known as Thermography is all about.

It is known that tumors and their precursors typically increase blood circulation to the affected area by increasing blood flow to existing blood vessels, opening dormant blood vessels, or even creating new ones.  This causes a rise in the surface temperature of the breast.  Since thermography relies on a computer-controlled infrared imaging system, it can detect the presence of a tumor too small to be detected by a mammogram.  Better yet, by detecting any variation in normal blood vessel activity, a thermograph can also point to pre-cancerous conditions that may exist in the breast.

Image courtesy of Vibrant Life Health Center
Studies have shown that abnormalities detected via digital thermal imaging have been instrumental in detecting markers associated with future cancer risk.  They have also proven effective in early detection of cancer for women on hormone replacement, as well as women with dense breasts, both of which cause difficulties when it comes to reading a mammogram. 

The use of thermography when combined with other existing testing methods can provide a more complete picture of breast health.  Especially when used on a serial basis, digital thermal images can be compared over time to detect even minute changes in circulation within the breast.  For younger women with a family history of breast cancer, thermography can offer a non-invasive screening tool that can provide peace of mind. 

The typical thermogram takes less than 30 minutes to complete.  The patient is asked about their history of health, then positioned in front of the infrared imager.  An image that encompasses the breasts, lymphatics, and chest are then taken .  These images are then displayed on a computer screen where they are electronically sent to Board Certified MD’s and DO’s for interpretation. (See the video below for more information on thermography.)



Once the images have been analyzed, they are then graded into one of 5 categories:

1.      Within Normal Limits
2.      Low Risk
3.      At Some Risk
4.      At Increased Risk
5.      At High Risk
           
Depending on the findings, the doctor may request other types of testing or schedule additional thermograms to better monitor breast health.  Since thermography is radiation-free, they can be repeated as often as necessary.  Since it is useful for early detection, thermography is a tool that can help all women win the fight against breast cancer.


Tracy Thomas is the Vice President of Vibrant Life Health Center. Tracy’s personal experience with chiropractic and nutrition has allowed her to watch many life changing transformations.  This is what drives her complete passion to devote her life to the mission of true Health & Wellness. Tracy’s life was changed drastically over 15 years ago and  her intensive transformation stands as a testimony to the life changing value of what we do at Vibrant Life Health Center today.   Tracy’s passion to educate families is what drives her on a daily basis! Being married to Dr. Jon for 18 years and raising 4 children has allowed her to continue to grow and master her holistic skills. Her family shares in the joy of Health and Wellness as she has made it a priority to pass on her wisdom of healthy living to her family and everyone who knows her. For fun Tracy loves scrapbooking, taking Sunday trips with her husband, reading and photography.

2 comments:

  1. A technology that can detect breast cancer before it gets started is just what women have needed for decades.

    ReplyDelete
  2. The advancement of diagnostic technology is amazing and important. All too often doctors get stuck in there old ways and don't look into these new tools. They can save lives. I hope anyone who believes they are at risk for cancer takes advantage of this new diagnostic tool.

    ReplyDelete