by Ingrid Edstrom
Several studies have shown that infrared imaging is a good, perhaps the best, method for risk assessment in breast cancer.
Every middle-aged woman that I know is frightened about breast cancer. It does not just affect women, it affects families: our mothers, our partners, our children, our sisters and maternal aunts and grandmothers. Just think about the people you know who have been touched by this medical crisis. Many younger women worry, knowing how this cancer has struck older female relatives, and they wait, hoping they will not become a statistic themselves.
Some of the research suggests that your environment—what you eat, how you live, the chemicals & radiation received from “natural” surroundings and the built environment—may have a greater impact on your future health than being gifted with bad genetics. This information is heartening for it allows the possibility that there may be an educational process that will help to empower women to make dietary, lifestyle and environmental changes that may better their chances to avoid contracting the disease, thus altering current statistical projections.
Stats That Cause Us Fear
According to the National Cancer Institute, breast cancer incidence rates increased by more than 40% from 1973 to 1998 in the US nationally. Oregon consistently ranks among the top five states for breast cancer incidence and was the third highest in 2001. The incidence of breast cancer in the US has risen during the past 30 years from 1 in 30 to 1 in 7 women during their lifetime. Agencies that track these statistics are concerned that in the next 10 years it may be 1 in 5. It would not be overstating the case to describe this as an epidemic!
One must wonder, what could be the cause for such an explosive statistical growth rate in so short a time? Here in Oregon I suspect a human-caused environmental linkage—the increased usage of the estrogen mimickers, or Xeno-Estrogens, found in the highly toxic herbicides containing Dioxin (Agent Orange-like compounds) that is routinely used by the timber industry and alongside county roads, and by well-meaning gardeners and husbands who collectively spray vast quantities of these chemicals (with brand names like Round Up and Cross Bow) upon the urban/suburban landscape. Though legal, these products have been linked to prostate cancer, miscarriages, infertility and a host of other arthritis-like issues, GERD and other symptoms and malaise problems. Risk to human health is exacerbated by other miracles of modern chemistry such as Parabins (used as a preservative in cosmetics, food, shampoo & sun screen), and the excessive amounts of estrogen (added to non-organic meat via conventional animal feed, and to Bovine Growth Hormone (BGH) found in some conventional cheese and dairy products) consumed by people in their diets. There are real and troubling health consequences to these compounds finding their way into the human food chain. [For instance, have you noticed that little 9 and 10-year old girls are developing breasts, 3-4 years before the standard age of 13, which has been since the dawn of womanhood?]
Medical science has for decades been working on establishing the links between breast cancer and a woman’s genetic inheritance, as well as a woman’s environment. Yet, with all of that, the results are less than encouraging. According to Dr. John Lee’s book What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Breast Cancer, and How Hormone Balance Can Save Your Life, “Your risk of surviving malignant breast cancer is just about the same as it was 50 years ago, when the only treatment was mastectomy, about one in three. In other words, despite billions of dollars in research and hugely expensive and risky treatments, the conventional medical approach to breast cancer isn’t working, and talk of prevention is virtually non existent.”
One Woman’s Solution
As a Nurse Practitioner and Health Educator, I am passionate about directing my career towards making a difference in these dreadful statistics, because these stats only represent the sanitized mask of real people’ extreme suffering. Is this preventable? Is there a way to empower women to create a more proactive approach to prevention?
For long have I been in that place of concern and worry with all my other women-sisters. More recently, I became one of those frightened women with a thickened area in my own breast and a “hot” infrared scan. I was at once terrified and energized to take action. Since I have a more Holistic approach to healthcare than most, I sought out an Infrared camera in Connecticut (two hours drive from where I lived in Western Massachusetts two years ago). I worked with a very skilled Naturopath and also did a lot of my own research. I started what I now refer to as a Proactive Breast Wellness Program (PBWP) that included an Anti-Estrogen Diet, supplements to help take the extra estrogen out of the system, more supplements to balance my hormones, and finally a course of bio-identical Progesterone. Additionally, I made a number of dietary and lifestyle changes. Thankfully, results were almost immediate. I was able to eliminate the thickened area in one month and reversed the inflammation in the course of just four months!
Following the ordeal, I felt that, if I were able to reverse these conditions once I knew I had the problem, then other women might also benefit. Since breast cancer is an inflammatory problem and breast cancers take 10-12 years to grow, it follows that the sooner one discovers a thermal shift (evidence of early inflammation), the better are the chances for survival. In other words, thermal assessment may well offer the best risk assessment tool possible, giving a woman the most time possible to alter the situation through her own PBWP. To put it another way, racing for “The Cure” is great but I am more interested in a preventive approach to this problem.
What is Infrared all about?
The 2003 article by Len Saputo, MD entitled Beyond Mammography states: “The most devastating loss of life from breast cancer occurs between the ages of 30 to 50. Fortunately, women today have more options available to them to help in the detection of breast cancer than in past decades. Unfortunately, education and awareness of these options and their effectiveness in detecting breast cancer at different stages in life are woefully deficient.”
Breast thermography, which involves using a heat-sensing scanner to detect variations in the temperature of breast tissue, has been around since the 1960s. However, early infrared scanners were not very sensitive and were insufficiently tested before being put into clinical practice, resulting in misdiagnosed cases.
Modern-day breast thermography boasts vastly improved technology and more extensive clinical scientific research. The technology has been FDA approved since 1982 and is 100% safe with no compression or radiation. In fact, Dr. Saputo’s article references data from major peer review journals and research on more than 300,000 women who have been tested using the technology, mostly in Europe. Combined with the successes in detecting breast cancer with greater accuracy than other methods, the technology is slowly gaining ground among more progressive practitioners.
Beyond Mammography concludes that “breast thermography needs to be embraced more widely by the medical community and awareness increased among women. Not only has it demonstrated a higher degree of success in identifying women with breast cancer under the age of 55 in comparison to other technologies, but it is also an effective adjunct to clinical breast exams and mammography for women over 55. Finally, it provides a non-invasive and safe detection method, and if introduced at age 25, provides a benchmark that future scans can be compared with for even greater detection accuracy.”
Infrared scans have the potential to pick up inflammatory changes months to possibly six years prior to detectable lump formation. All breast cancer is an inflammatory process and may take 10 to 12 years for a mass to develop. The research that I am currently involved in appears to show that the inflammation may be able to be reversed, if changes are detected early, when there is still time for a woman to balance her hormones and make dietary and lifestyle changes. In short, it is possible to alter the inflammatory process from progressing to breast disease. Recent technological advances in software and camera systems during the past four years have greatly improved the data from this functional test.
A 2002 study detailed in IEEE Engineering in Medicine & Biology, bears this out: Of 58,000 women (all with normal physical exams, mammograms, and ultrasounds) who showed an abnormal asymmetrical infrared image of their breasts, 38% were diagnosed with breast cancer within four years.
Infrared Thermography has numerous clinically proven applications, including: Risk Evaluation Screening, Adjunctive Diagnostics that work alongside x-ray mammography, MRI and ultrasound for targeting and following fast-growing cancers.
How Breast Thermograms Work
Breast thermography measures differences in infrared heat emission from normal breast tissue, benign breast abnormalities—such as fibrocystic disease, cysts, infections and benign tumors—and from breast cancers. It does this with a high degree of sensitivity and accuracy. Breast thermography is a non-invasive measurement of the physiology of breast tissue. This technology is not meant to replace mammography or other diagnostic tests presently used in clinical practice that measure anatomical abnormalities in breast tissue. While breast cancer can only be diagnosed by tissue biopsy, breast thermography safely eliminates the need for most unnecessary biopsies as well as their associated high cost and emotional suffering, and it does so years sooner than any other test in modern medicine.
Modern infrared scanners have a thermal sensitivity of 0.05 degrees Centigrade. Because tumor tissue does not have an intact sympathetic nervous system, it cannot regulate heat loss. When the breast is cooled in a room kept at 68-70 degrees Fahrenheit, blood vessels of normal tissue respond by constricting to conserve heat while tumor tissue remains hot. Thus, tumors emit more heat than their surrounding tissues and are usually easily detected by heat-sensing infrared scanners.
Over time, cancerous tissues stay hot or become even hotter—they do not cool down. In sharp contrast, however, other possible conditions such as fibrocystic breasts, infections, and other benign disorders cool down as they resolve.
Breast thermograms show highly specific thermal patterns in each individual woman. They provide a unique “thermal signature” that remains constant over years unless there is a change in an underlying condition. Thus, over time, it is possible to differentiate between cancers and benign conditions. Based on this ability to more accurately detect cancers over time, it becomes important to have a benchmark early on in a woman’s life. For this reason, women should have breast thermography performed beginning at age 25.
The Infrared Thermography Camera system provides a painless, radiation free, low cost approach for following high-risk women with a family history or a personal history of breast cancer. This scanning tool is also useful for dense fibrocystic breasts or for women who have breast implants or have concerns about compression of the tissues in mammogram equipment. It can also be used to help assess vascular issues in the legs with diabetic neuropathy, screening for melanoma, thyroid and pain issues using heat pattern recognition.
It is important to make “Breast Wellness” a priority for women, and clearly there are now inexpensive and accessible ways to do that. Educating the Sisterhood and helping to create a better state of health for yourself and your family helps you feel that you can “Do something” that will potentially make a difference.
Ingrid Edstrom FNP, M.Ed, is founder and president of Infrared Breast Health (IBH), and is a Family Nurse Practitioner with a Masters in Health Education. She is available to provide proactive, educational programs for women’s groups to empower women to make diet and life style changes to improve their health and the health of their families. .