BEDFORD (WSLS 10) - New technology is making it possible to detect breast cancer earlier than before.
On average, by the time doctors can detect a breast tumor, it's been growing for at least eight years.
Some doctors are now using an alternative to mammography.
Clinician Marilyn MacClellan, a certified clinical thermographer with Image of Health Breast Thermography says thermography can detect cancer cells at least a year earlier than a mammogram.
"That's the secret to everything. Make a change before we have a disease," MacClellan said
"MRI, ultra-sounds, mammograms are all looking for a lump, for a structural change. Well there are changes that happen before that."
That's what she says thermographers look for during a screening. She says that cancer cells can double in number every 90 days.
"In that seven year growth period there is an increase in blood flow. Like this cluster needs more food and the breast makes extra vessels," MacClellan said.
"That actually helps feed these cells to grow into a tumor. That's what we are looking for."
Those cancer cells produce more heat than normal cells, the process to detect that heat is called thermography.
The test is simple and painless. Patients stand in front of a small sensor which looks much like a personal camera. It takes heat measurements in the breasts.
"We don't want to just get a test and wait until something happens," MacClellan said.
The thermography screening produces an image for doctors to review that shows an outline of the breasts and picks up the on the natural infrared signatures emitted from the skin and tissue. The temperature is clearly shows in the pictures. Hotter spots are displayed as red and yellow. Cooler spots are displayed in blue and green.
This image potentially saved a patient's life. Thermography shows cancer cells highlighted in red in this picture. It was something a mammogram didn't pick up. The patient later had an MRI done that proved there was in fact a tumor in her breast and lymph nodes.
MacClellan says thermography is a preferred option for patients who want to avoid radiation from mammograms. She says some patients prefer not to have healthy cells exposed to radiation that traditional screenings like mammography can emit.
"You sit about two to three feet in front of a sensor, so there is no damage at all. I've imaged as young as a 10-month-old and as old as 91-year-old woman," MacClellan said.
Not only does she say it's safer, but it is also faster. She says the images produced by the screening are typically reviewed by a doctor within 24 hours of the procedure. Patients will be contacted that same week and will know their results most of the time within days.
A service normally only offered in larger cities, is now offered in a mobile doctor's office in Southwest Virginia six times a year.
The Image of Health mobile office sets up at Basics in the town of Bedford located at 810 A Blue Ridge Avenue, natural products retailer offers homeopathic remedies that aim to promote human health as well as the health of the planet.
Most insurances do not cover the cost of a thermography. A visit costs $250 and is covered by HSA and flex spending plans.
To make an appointment call 1-804-748-7401. More information can also be obtained by contacted Cheryl Z. Saville, the owner of Basics in Bedford.
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