History of Thermography

Thermography was born in the 1950’s and used as a top secret cold war spying device.  In 1957, a surgeon, Dr. R. Lawson, discovered that his breast cancer patients had higher skin temperatures over their cancer area.  He was the first to use breast thermography to study breast cancers.  Since the 1970’s, thermography has been used for many diagnostic purposes, from finding sources of nerve inflammation, infection and circulatory problems, to finding cracks in airplanes.

Thermography equipment has evolved significantly since those days.  Early problems such as improper detector sensitivity, thermal drift, calibration and analog interface have long since been corrected.

Research problems were encountered early on that led medicine to pursue mammography instead of thermography.  For instance, thermography studies identified breast cancers that could not be verified by mammograms until eight to ten years later.  Initially, researchers thought thermography was giving false positive information.  Mistakes in another test also inhibited the acceptance of thermography.  The breast cancer detection and demonstration project (bcddp) 1973-1979 had poor study design, a faulty premise, poor statistical breakdown, but most significantly, poor training of thermography technicians as opposed to excellent training of mammography technicians.

Since this time, there are over eight hundred peer reviewed studies on breast thermography in the index medicus literature.  Over 300,000 women are included as study participants and studies have followed patients up to 12 years.  These studies show breast thermography to have a sensitivity and specificity of ninety percent.

Strict standardized interpretation protocols have been established for over fifteen years.  The food and drug administration approved breast thermography as an adjunctive diagnostic breast cancer screening procedure in 1982.

Studies in 1996 by Guido and Schnitt developed the concept of angiogenesis, the growth of blood vessels to feed a cancer.  Very early in development of cancer, before tumor cells have the ability to invade the surrounding tissue and even before microscopic evidence of cancer can be found; these blood vessels grow to feed the possible cancer site. The heat of angiogenesis is the early sign found by thermography to indicate a future breast cancer problem.  Also in 1996, Gamagami found that excess heat and blood vessels could be shown in eighty-six percent of non-palpable breast cancers.

Today breast thermography is the primary diagnostic tool used in Europe for breast cancer detection.  There are over 600 breast thermography clinics in France and 400 in Germany.