Thermography vs. Mammography

March 4, 2015

The most complex debate over which screening test is most complete, and which breast screening test should be your choice is currently thermography and mammography. They are both screening tools – they are not necessarily used to diagnose breast cancer – often times further testing such as biopsy or fine needle aspiration is needed to determine the nature of the cells in question. To better understand those two processes, here’s a summary of thermography and mammography.

Thermography is a diagnostic tool approved by the FDA in 1982 where infrared rays convert body heat and blood flow to images that can be interpreted as figures. A thermal camera is used to measure subtle temperature differences in infrared heat emission from tumors, infections, cysts or inflammation in the breast tissue.  There is no contact with the patient’s body during the entire process, therefore, there is no discomfort.  Thermorgaphy has been studied for over 50 years and is considered to be a noninvasive, complementary diagnostic measure. (Kennedy, Lee, & Seely 2009; Society of Breast Imaging, 2011). Thermography records physiological, or thermal changes in breast tissue using thermographic images making the test risk-free as there is no exposure to radiation or compression – invasive aspects that are found in other breast screening options.

Another breast screening test is the mammography, considered a diagnostic test.  Mammography has a bad reputation among patients for its discomfort and radiation. However the positive side, is that it is the most accurate test to diagnose breast cancer, since it uses low-dosage X-rays to produce images. It is mostly used to detect early breast disease in women. Unlike thermography, mammography looks at the anatomy of the breast, meaning the tissue, glands form not the thermal anomaly. Just like any breast screening test, there are possibilities of false positive

In early June of 2011, the FDA made a statement saying that thermography is not a replacement for the mammography, “The FDA is unaware of any valid scientific evidence showing that thermography, when used alone, is effective in screening for breast cancer. To date, the FDA has not approved a thermography device (also referred to as a telethermographic device) for use as a stand-alone to screen or diagnose breast cancer. The FDA has cleared thermography devices for use only as an additional diagnostic tool for breast cancer screening and diagnosis.” The FDA approved thermography as a breast-screening test, however, as a complement to the already existing test, mammography and other alternative forms of diagnosis such as ultrasound and MRI. Alone, no test is conclusive enough for a complete diagnosis, there are cases of false positives in both tests, so they should assist one another.

As with any decision to be made, the patient has the right to choose the test that is best for them despite their doctors’ suggestion. It is important that a patient be their own advocate in their healthcare by thoroughly researching options and finding the best fit to meet personal needs and circumstances.  One screening does not fit all. Therefore, it is safe to say that mammography and thermography complement each other rather than compete against each other. Think about what option is best for you, be tested every year if you are 45 years old or above, and let’s fight this illness together.



Lindberg, Deborah. “Is Thermography or Mammography A More Effective Breast Cancer Screening Tool?.” ONS Connect 27.8 (2012):24 CINAHL Plus with Full Text. Web. 4 Feb. 2015. Retrieved from

U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2011). Breast thermography not a substitute for mammography. Retrieved from NewsEvents/Newsroom/P

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