Dr Meagan Brennan has published a research article that shows thermography is very unreliable for detecting breast cancer.
Thermography is an imaging test that uses a thermal camera to produce a ‘heat map’ of the breast.
The research was a systematic review of 17 studies of thermography.
There were three types of studies included in the review and these looked at the accuracy of thermography in different clinical settings.
1. Studies that looked at the ability of thermography to find breast cancer in a women without symptoms: These showed a sensitivity (percentage of true cancers detected by the test) of 47% for thermography. The false postive rate (percentage of cases without breast cancer that showed an abnormal thermogram) was 31%. (As a comparison, the sensitivity of mammographic screening is over 90% and the false positive rate is around 5%.)
2. Studies that looked at the ability of thermography to find breast cancer in women with symptoms of breast cancer or with an abnormal mammogram. Sensitivity was 59%.
3. Studies that looked at the ability of thermography to predict the risk of developing breast cancer in the future. None of these studies showed an association with an abnormal thermogram and future breast cancer.
The conclusions of the research were that thermography should not be used in clinical practice because:
-Thermography is not reliable enough in detecting breast cancer as it will miss 53% of breast cancers in the screening setting.
-Thermography can cause unnecessary alarm by giving a false positive result in around one third of women.
The following Australian organisations have recommended against the use of thermography:
Brennan M, Houssami N. Thermography in breast cancer diagnosis, screening and risk assessment: systematic review. Breast Cancer Management (2013):2(2);163-172.
Read the article Abstract (summary).
The full text pdf is available from the journal website. For copyright reasons, it cannot be posted on our website.
Copies can also be requested (without charge) from Dr Meagan Brennan firstname.lastname@example.org.