My friends and I are approaching the age when we need to get regular mammograms. I have been hearing women talk about this since I was a teenager, and they never painted a very pretty picture. As I was about to make my appointment, I asked my best friend how hers went, as I knew she'd had one very recently.
I was surprised when she told me she didn't end up getting a mammogram after all — her doctor recommended thermography instead. Thermography uses sensors to detect heat emitted from the breast tissue. When there is a tumor present in the breast, it increases blood flow, which produces more heat in the breast tissue.
A mammogram takes an X-ray, which shows a picture of the actual tissue. A tumor looks different than normal, healthy breast tissue, so it is easy to see the difference.
While thermography and mammograms are both good for early detection, my friend said her experience was super-easy and she didn't experience any discomfort as some women do when the have a mammogram.
It made me remember a few years back when my gynecologist mentioned mammograms did have false positives. Women were getting scared, then getting cut unnecessarily. Could this be a better option?
My friend certainly seemed to think so and told me it wasn't invasive at all. It required her to lie down with her breasts exposed for about 15 minutes with no machines touching her. She especially liked how she didn't have to lay her breast on a plate and have it squeezed with another plate before the X-ray was taken. Plus, you aren't exposed to any radiation during thermography.
When I asked her if insurance covered it, she said it didn't, but it was only $100. Definitely worth it for some who dread the boob-smashing that a mammogram makes you go through.
However, after doing more research, I found that there are mixed reviews on thermography. While it is more comfortable, less invasive and only takes a few minutes, mammograms are still proven to be the most accurate test you can have and the actual compression of the breast only lasts a few minutes.
Dr. Ayala Rosenbaum of Rosetta Radiology told SheKnows that for now, mammography remains the gold standard in diagnosing breast cancer. Studies show that mammography picks up 83 to 95 percent of breast cancers, she said, adding that additional tests such as sonography can help bring that number even higher for certain women.
Rosenbaum also said when thermography does detect something, it is almost always correct, but needs further investigation, which usually results in an ultrasound or mammogram anyway.
"This is because thermography does not help in showing what is causing the positive read. It may be something benign. If something is seen on thermography, there is no way to biopsy or test the tissue to characterize it using a thermogram. That testing can be done with findings made with mammograms, sonograms, MRIs and other forms of imaging," Rosenbaum said.
Other options for breast cancer screenings besides sonography, mammograms, thermography, ultrasound or MRIs, such as nuclear breast imaging, which is an X-ray with lower doses of radiation used to detect breast cancer before there are any noticeable signs, are in the works right now.
So whether you prefer the comfort of thermography or the accuracy of a mammogram, we can all agree your breast health is important. No matter which option you choose, we all need to get checked as well as doing self-checks every month.
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