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Letter: WDAY story requires clarification between thermography and mammograms

A recent WDAY story about thermograms of the breast needs some additional information and clarification to help people make informed decisions.

Thermograms are not a replacement for mammograms. Thermograms detect surface temperature changes; mammograms use X-rays to look deep into breast tissue. A biopsy, evaluated by a pathologist, is then necessary to confirm a breast cancer. No screening test is perfect. Compared to mammograms, thermograms have a higher false negative rate (miss more breast cancers) and a higher false positive rate (sees things that prove to not be cancers).

The Food and Drug administration has published in a consumer update that "Indeed, thermography has not been shown to be effective as a standalone test for either breast cancer screening or diagnosis in detecting early stage breast cancers." "The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is reminding you that mammography-a low dose x-ray image of the breast-is still the most effective breast cancer screening test."

The Society of Breast Imaging Position Statement "...does not currently support the use of thermography/infrared imaging of the breast as either a screening tool in the detection of breast cancer or as an adjunct to mammography."

Breast cancer screening requires an individualized plan based on your age, family history and other factors. Clinical breast exams and mammograms remain the best way to detect breast cancer at early stages. Other imaging such as ultrasound and breast MRI may be recommended in select cases. You should discuss any concerns or questions you have with your doctor.

Neither thermography nor mammography are a known treatment for any disease.

Bouton is a surgeon at Sanford Health in Fargo.