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Thermography should not be relied on for early detection of breast cancer

26 July 2019

The TGA is urging consumers not to rely on unproven breast imaging technologies, such as breast thermography, to detect breast cancer.

Breast thermography, also known as thermal breast imaging, is a non-invasive technique that uses an infrared camera to measure differences in temperature on or near the surface of the skin. The rationale for applying thermography to the detection of breast cancer is that the temperature of a cancer tumour is warmer due to its high blood flow and metabolism.

There is currently insufficient evidence to support the use of this technique in the early detection of breast cancer. Studies have shown that:

  • a tumour has to be large (several centimetres in diameter) before it can be detected by thermography
  • less than 50% of breast cancers detected by mammography screening have an abnormal thermogram.

The Australian Government Department of Health commissioned a literature review of emerging technologies, including thermography, in breast cancer screening. The final report, published in 2018, states that there appears to be clear acceptance that thermography will not have a role in future breast screening programs.

In February 2019, the FDA published a statement warning that thermography should not be used in place of mammography, even though the FDA has approved thermography for use in conjunction with mammography. This means that thermography is not an effective alternative to mammography for breast cancer screening or diagnosis.

In 2011 the TGA cancelled a number of breast screening devices from the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (ARTG) after sponsors were unable to substantiate the therapeutic claims being made, including claims about their effectiveness in diagnosing breast cancer.

Women who rely solely on thermography to detect early stages of breast cancer are at serious risk of not being adequately diagnosed. Early detection of breast cancer gives women the best possible chances of recovery, which can only be achieved through regular mammograms. If you are concerned about breast cancer, please talk to your health professional or visit BreastScreen Australia for further information and resources.

If you see a clinic advertising thermography in place of mammography to detect breast cancer, please report it to us.

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