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FDA Advises against Thermography for Breast Cancer Screening

Radiologist Reviewing Mammogram

Beware of False Claims about Thermography for Breast Cancer Screening

Women seeking an alternative to mammography may have heard of something called thermography. False claims have touted it as a painless, radiation-free approach to detecting breast cancer.

“There is absolutely no data to show that thermography is effective. So it’s a dangerous claim that actually puts women at risk,” said Catherine Mendlick, MD, a CHI Health radiologist. “Unfortunately, this claim crops up periodically and the public needs to be aware that it is false.”

In fact, in February 2019, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration responded to these recent claims by issuing an alert that thermography is not an effective alternative to mammography and should not replace mammography for breast cancer screening or diagnosis.

The technology behind thermography dates back to the 1950s. It involves digital infrared imaging that detects heat patterns and blood flow. “There’s absolutely nothing scientific about its ability to detect cancerous tumors,” Dr. Mendlick said. “It just has not been proven.”

The false-positive rate is high, which means women have to follow up with a mammogram.  The false-negative rate is also high, which means women may have a cancerous tumor that is not detected and continues to grow.

That doesn’t stop some chiropractors and alternative care practitioners from making questionable claims about thermography. “Women and men need to know mammography is still the gold standard for detecting breast cancer. It’s simply the best and safest approach to saving lives.” 

Catherine E. Mendlick, MD

Breast Imaging