Date: August 3rd, 2017
Author: Judith Potts
Over the last few years I have come across myriad myths about cures for breast cancer – indeed all cancers. Of course, everyone is looking for a treatment which does not involve chemotherapy, a diagnostic test which does not use radiation, or a treatment without side effects.
While thermography may be an innovative concept, there is little good evidence that it is effective in detecting breast cancer at an early stageEluned Hughes, head of public health and information at Breast Cancer Now
But I have lost count of the number of times I have heard that ‘Cancer is a fungus and Sodium Bicarbonate is the cure’. I have even been sent an amateur video of a man mixing his sodium bicarbonate potion in an extremely unhygienic-looking kitchen. Part of the Cancer Research UK’s website carries ‘10 Persistent Cancer Myths Debunked’ which makes an interesting read – . Alternative therapies abound and all are described as ‘natural’.
The word is applied to food, to beauty products and to fabrics – but, all too often, the list of ingredients denies the description. Last week, an email dropped into my inbox introducing me to Dr Nyjon Eccles and describing his work at his clinic in London’s Harley Street – The ‘Natural’ Doctor. Was it referring to his treatments as being ‘natural’ in the sense of pure, unadulterated and complementary, or did he mean that he was born a ‘natural’ doctor?
I discovered that Dr Eccles is offering a breast cancer screening clinical test called ThermoCheck, a computer-assisted thermography which is ‘a 15 minute, painless, non-invasive, state of the art clinical test without any exposure to radiation’. Dr Eccles believes the test can be used on women as young as 20 and it will “identify metabolic changes in the tissue and is a much earlier indicator of breast health compromise than traditional mammograms”.
He says that thermography may identify pre-cancerous changes; thermography, the website script goes, “looks for physiological irregularities, whereas mammography looks for anatomical irregularities. The infra-red camera takes thermal images of the breasts which show a heat map of the surface of the skin detecting any metabolic changes and signs of abnormal blood vessels- which give off more heat than the surrounding tissue – at an early stage, possibly 6-10 years before a tumour is big enough to be seen on a mammogram.”
Needless to say, there is a price to this test – the initial breast thermography and consultation (up to 90 min) is £395, with a breast thermography scan (up to 30 mins) at £245. Added to this is Dr Eccles’ Breast Nutricheck, which is a home test kit which ‘identifies several nutrients that seem to impact on breast tissue health’. This costs £425.
With so much written about breast cancer, particularly about the genetic varieties, I am concerned that many women (I note that men are not included) – particularly the young – may be persuaded to undertake this test on a regular and expensive basis. So I turned to Breast Cancer Now to find out whether or not thermography was an accepted and proven way to detect early breast cancer.
It seems to me that not enough has been done to compare thermography to mammography with ultrasound
Eluned Hughes, head of public health and information at Breast Cancer Now told me: “While thermography may be an innovative concept, there is little good evidence that it is effective in detecting breast cancer at an early stage – let alone that it could replace traditional mammography. Any new screening test would need to demonstrate even greater sensitivity than mammography, as well as better accuracy in detecting breast tumours and distinguishing between cancerous and healthy cells. Unfortunately, there is currently no evidence to suggest that thermography is capable of either.”
This lack of evidence has led to the Royal College of Radiology, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Radiologists and The American Society of Breast Imaging specifically not endorsing the process.
One of the concerns raised is that women who undergo thermography may delay visiting their doctor with a significant symptom, or attending for screening, if they believe that thermography is an adequate replacement for a visit to the GP or a mammogram.
I brought these concerns to Dr Eccles, who said that thermography has been shown to have a better sensitivity for detecting existing cancers than mammography, and that the variable results may be because “some thermographic studies have not used accepted standardised protocols.”
Arguing that thermography should be offered by doctors alongside other structural scans, he told me: “It is simply not true that there is no evidence for thermography’s usefulness. It time for doctors to make honest and correct statements about mammography screening based on the latest evidence – i.e. the risks outweigh the benefits. Thermography is at the very least, a valuable non-invasive adjunctive tool to identify women at risk and help detect pre-cancerous changes in the breast. If used correctly, it has the potential to help us significantly reduce breast cancer incidence.”
Studies continue to be conducted in the USA to explore the potential of infrared imaging of the breast, but it seems to me that not enough has been done to compare thermography to mammography with ultrasound, breast MRI, or nuclear imaging. One day there might be and perhaps the results will vindicate Dr Eccles but, until we can be assured that thermography will give an accurate diagnosis, please remember that if you have a family history of breast cancer, regular screening or other interventions can be offered by the NHS at a younger age than the 49-50 age group at which invitations for mammograms arrive.