May 27, 2011 10:46 AM by Carina Corral

Thermography is a no-contact way to screen for breast cancer, but is it effective? Local experts weigh in

The simple mention of a mammogram puts a lot of women off, so when they hear about a no-contact screening process they are usually all ears.

Thermography is a way to measure and map the heat on the surface of the breast using a special heat-sensing camera. It is based on the idea that the temperature rises in areas with increased blood flow, which could be a sign of a tumor.

"It's actually less invasive than a thermometer because no one actually touches you," said Thermographer Gaea Powell who runs Central Coast Thermography in San Luis Obispo.

Powell says thermograms should not replace, but rather compliment, mammograms.

"Women can start in their 20s and learn how their breast works and keep an eye on certain areas that might be of interest, especially for women who are high risk," said Powell.

The images are convincing. The results a woman would want to see are blue and green colors. Red and yellow suggest inflammation. Powell said even some of the worst cases were cleared up through diet and stress reduction.

While she does work with a board certified radiologist, not all in the medical field buy into it.

"We used to use it at Sierra Vista (Regional Medical Center). We stopped doing it because there's no science behind the technology," said Dr.Fred Vernacchia of San Luis Diagnostic Center who added there are no case studies or scientific evidence to prove thermograms are effective in detecting breast cancer.

"It's all very warm and fuzzy for them to sit down and talk about looking at these subtle changes and we see these changes, but where's the science?" asked Dr. Vernacchia.

Dr. Vernacchia said it may give women a false sense of security, while Powell said it gives women a sense of empowerment.

American Cancer Society has also weighed in stating newer versions of thermography are being studied to find if it might be useful in finding cancer, but that for now thermograms should not be a substitute for mammograms.

Thermograms costs about $150 and not all insurances include them in their coverage.