FDA Says Thermography Shouldn’t Be Substituted for Mammograms

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In June 2011, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned doctors that thermography shouldn't be a substitute for mammograms and other proven breast imaging technology for screening and diagnosing breast cancer.

Thermography, also called thermal imaging, uses an infrared camera to make images of the amount of blood flow and heat in tissue near the breast surface.

Thermography is based on two ideas:

  • Because cancer cells are growing and multiplying very fast, blood flow and metabolism are higher in a cancer tumor.
  • As blood flow and metabolism increase, skin temperature goes up.

In the 1980s, the FDA approved using thermography to get more information about breast cancers that had already been diagnosed with a mammogram or other traditional technology. Thermography was never approved to be used as a substitute for mammograms or other breast cancer screening tests.

No study has shown that thermography is a good screening tool to detect breast cancer early, when the cancer is most treatable. Thermography can't find cancers that are deeper in the breast and can't detect small cancers. Still, a number of doctors around the United States have been promoting thermography as a good or even better alternative to mammograms for breast cancer screening and diagnosis.

The FDA warning about thermography is not related to any safety concerns about thermographic devices. Thermography may help doctors get more information about a breast cancer that has already been diagnosed. But thermography should NOT be used as an alternative to regular mammograms for breast cancer screening.

You can learn more about the tests doctors can use for breast cancer screening, diagnosis, and monitoring in the Breastcancer.org Screening and Testing section.

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