Dr. Mylinh Vo, ND, ABAAHP • Anti-Aging & Bio-Identical Hormone Specialist Since 1997

Frequently Asked Questions about Thermography

Is ThermoBreastScan safe?

The procedure uses Digital Infrared Imaging with no radiation or intravenous injection; therefore, breast thermography poses absolutely no health risk to the patient. Since there is no contact with the body, the procedure is also completely painless.


Is Digital Infrared Imaging (DII) costly?

No, DII of the breast is very reasonable considering the sophistication of the technology involved. Our center’s fee for a ThermoBreastScan is $250 which includes 12 thermal images of the breasts, clinical breast examination after the scan to verify the results, and a computer-analyzed written report from a certified radiologist/thermologist. If you would like to discuss ways to optimize your breast health and breast cancer prevention, please schedule a separate office visit with Dr. Vo. Please bear in mind that the Scan appointment is solely for the imaging study only; no treatment recommendation will be discussed; you will need to schedule a separate visit with Dr. Vo.


How long does it take for the breast scan?

ThermoBreastScan typically takes approximately 60 minutes. After the doctor goes over the images with you, you will be given a few copies of your images to take home. Your data will be then sent to an expert for in-depth analysis. A written report will be sent to you later.


Will my insurance cover the test?

This all depends on your individual insurance coverage. Some companies cover the procedure while others do not. Our policy is to receive FULL payment at the time of service while providing you with all the paperwork necessary for you to submit the bill to your insurance company for reimbursement. Payments can be made in the form of cash, personal checks, and VISA/MASTERCARD.


Is Digital Infrared Imaging an approved procedure?

Yes, in 1982 DII was approved by the FDA for use as an adjunctive breast cancer screening procedure.


Does Digital Infrared Imaging replace mammograms?

Absolutely not! However, do mammograms replace DII? The answer to this is also a resounding no; the two tests complement each other. The consensus among health care experts is that no one procedure or method of imaging is solely adequate for breast cancer screening. The false negative and positive rates for mammography are too high for the procedure to be used alone. DII can pick up many of the cancers missed by mammography. A positive infrared image is also the single most important marker of high risk for developing breast cancer. It is DII’s unique ability to monitor the abnormal temperature (physiological) changes produced by diseased breast tissue that allows for extremely early detection. Since it has been determined that 1 in 8 women will get breast cancer, we must use every means possible to detect these tumors when there is the greatest chance for survival.


What other centers perform Digital Infrared Imaging?

Because of the special training, technical expertise, expensive camera and software, and unique clinical environmental needs necessary to perform DII, many centers do not have this technology yet. Currently, independent digital infrared imaging centers and highly specialized independent breast clinics are the most common place to find this technology.


Why haven’t I heard of Digital Infrared Imaging before?

Due to a poorly constructed and performed (with regards to Breast Thermography) research study back in the 1970’s, DII was placed in a “further study needed” and “no improvement over mammography” category. Along with this study, health care politics and insurance cost-containment issues caused interest in this technology to be put on hold. However, with the combination of a multitude of large-scale studies performed in the 80’s and 90’s, and recent advances in technology, DII has become one of the most important front-line procedures in early breast cancer detection.


I mentioned Digital Infrared Imaging to my doctor and was told that the procedure is outdated and useless, is this true?

Unfortunately, many physicians either do not know about this technology or are knowledgeable about a single poorly performed (with regards to DII) research study; the BCDDP (Breast Cancer Detection Demonstration Projects). The BCDDP was a large study done in the 1970’s that collected data from many centers around the United States. Three methods of breast cancer detection were studied: physical examination, mammography, and thermography. With regards to thermography, the BCDDP was seriously flawed in four critical areas:


  • Completely untrained technicians were used to perform the scans.
  • The study used radiologists who had no experience or knowledge in reading infrared images.
  • No standardized reading protocol had yet been established for infrared imaging.
  • Proper laboratory environmental controls were completely ignored. In fact, many of the research sites were mobile trailers with extreme variations in internal temperatures.


Of considerable concern was the reading of the images. It wasn’t until the early 1980’s that established and standardized reading protocols were introduced. Considering these facts, the BCDDP could not have properly evaluated infrared imaging. With the advent of known laboratory environmental controls, established reading protocols, and state-of-the-art infrared technology, a poorly performed 20-year-old study cannot be used to determine the appropriateness of DII.


Is infrared FDA approved for this purpose?  Is the ThermoBreastScan system approved too?

The efficacy of infrared imaging for adjunctive breast cancer screening was demonstrated to the FDA’s satisfaction in 1982. Since then, all systems that are used for this purpose are given an FDA 510k clearance, under CFR 21 884.2980.


Is infrared able to detect cancer early? What does infrared detect? 

Numerous studies have shown that infrared can detect the signs of developing cancer years before modalities such as mammography; by up to 10 years, and that it is a good indicator of risk for breast cancer. Infrared is able to detect the physiologic changes that are often associated with developing disease, as well as the detection of neo-angiogenesis (new blood vessels that develop to feed cancerous tumors). Much of the past and current uses of this technology made measurements that, in one way or another, assessed the differences when comparing both breasts.  Symmetry between breasts is one of the most telling signs that can be measured and quantified by the ThermoBreastScan system. The determination of areas within the breasts that show a high degree of blood perfusion, or vessels that may be angiogenic, are also of importance. A doctor using this “road map” of sites that exhibit abnormal signs, can then make a very thorough evaluation of the area. In some cases where these sites are within dense tissue and a proper assessment cannot be made by mammography, other modalities, such as ultrasound or MRI, may be indicated.


Does infrared imaging form a good baseline test for comparison with future infrared testing?  How early can infrared detect the signs of breast cancer? 

Since the ThermoBreastScan is fully objective, and always utilizes the same analysis techniques for every person every time, it is very useful for establishing a baseline report for comparison to future reports. This will allow the doctor to monitor for changes, which may be a warning for development of disease. Since infrared has been shown to detect these signs up to 10 years in advance, the patient and doctor can plan a careful program for follow-up testing or monitoring, and ample time to correct any lifestyle risk factors (smoking, obesity, HRT, etc.).


Who can benefit from infrared testing?

Does this test diagnose cancer and replace mammography?  Is this test useful for young women that do not yet receive mammography? Simply, all women can benefit from infrared imaging for breast cancer detection (including pregnant women and those breastfeeding). It is an adjunctive test that does not diagnose cancer, and is not a replacement for mammography. 
Infrared imaging can supplement the Clinical Breast Exam (CBE) by the patients doctor, if the women is not yet of age to receive a mammography. Infrared imaging is a useful adjunct for women with dense breast tissue, where mammography is ineffective, and especially true in young women. 
The ThermoBreastScan test helps the patient’s doctor assess the overall breast health, and will serve as a clinical marker for the doctor to utilize in the examination of mammography, ultrasound, MR, or CBE, data. Based on the excellent negative predictive value demonstrated in our studies, and combined with the low prevalence of the disease, it is likely that any patient that tests negative with the ThermoBreastScan, has that extra degree of assurance that “nothing was missed.”


I take yearly mammograms, why should I take another exam? 

ThermoBreastScan collects different data than other exams. Mammography, ultrasound, MRI, and clinical breast exams detect anatomical features. ThermoBreastScan detects physiological features associated with the growth and spread of cancer cells. This additional information will be used by the radiologist reviewing your mammography films to make sure nothing was overlooked. If any abnormal areas were indicated on the infrared image, the radiologist will give that area special attention so that cancer can be detected at the earliest stage possible.


How often do I need to take this exam?

ThermoBreastScan is typically taken yearly however it can be taken more frequently as recommended by your doctor.


If ThermoBreastScan can see cancer in advance, can’t I take it every few years? 

Although infrared imaging can detect abnormalities leading to cancer before a mass forms, in many cases cancerous masses have developed and formed within months. A yearly infrared breast exam will help to ensure cancer will be detected at an earlier stage.


I have breast implants. Can I take ThermoBreastScan? 

Yes. ThermoBreastScan is very helpful for women with breast implants since the implants will not affect the accuracy of the exams. Mammograms are sometimes unreliable in the case of implants because it is difficult to take a film of all the breast tissue. This is not the case with ThermoBreastScan.


Who can take ThermoBreastScan?

This exam is recommended to all women over the age of 18 including women previously diagnosed with cancer, with implants, and especially women with dense or cystic breasts or family history of breast cancer.


No one in my family has been diagnosed with breast cancer. Why do I need to take another exam?

Most women diagnosed with breast cancer are the first members of their family to be diagnosed. Although family history is a high risk factor, an abnormal infrared image is 10 times more significant as a future risk factor than first order family history.


I have not recently had a mammogram but I want to take ThermoBreastScan. What should I do?

ThermoBreastScan has been approved by the FDA as a tool used in conjunction with mammography. Your doctor will need a current mammogram to compare infrared results to. For women too young to have a mammogram, infrared imaging can be used in conjunction with a clinical breast exam.


I have recently undergone radiation treatment; can I take ThermoBreastScan today?

Patients should wait one year after undergoing radiation to take ThermoBreastScan. However, if radiation was done on one breast, there is no need to wait 12 months to have infrared results on the other breast.


Can infrared imaging detect inflammatory breast cancer? 

Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) is a form of breast cancer that is generally in the skin of the breast and is rarely diagnosed with mammography. The only diagnosis is a biopsy, usually done after more advanced signs of the disease are observed clinically. One of the early signs of the disease includes an elevated breast temperature that increases over time as the disease advances. Infrared imaging can detect even a slight increase in the breast temperature, and thus is an effective indicator of the potential for this condition. If significant temperature signs are observed with infrared, and your doctor suspects the possibility of IBC, he may order an early biopsy before other more advanced clinical signs become evident.

By Dr. Mylinh Vo, ND, ABAAHP