Usually, people go to see a doctor because they’re experiencing some symptom they want to treat. According to Tammy Kohlschmidt, a certified clinical thermographer at Thermography for Health New York in New York City, that’s entirely the wrong approach. As she explains, a thermography scan offers a way to catch dysfunction before it becomes symptomatic, helping people to prevent rather than treat disease — which is key to maintaining your health. Read on to learn how infrared thermography works, why she recommends breast thermography, who could benefit from a thermography scan, and more.
What Is a Thermography Scan?
Thermography, also known as infrared thermography or digital infrared thermal imaging (DITI), is a screening method that uses camera images to measure your body temperature and blood flow. The thermography scan looks for dysfunction and other precursors to disease by screening for patterns and variations in your body temperature and blood flow. These variations are very telling, because, as Kohlschmidt says, “your temperature does not lie.”
A thermography scan looks at all sorts of different parts of the body, as well as our different “flow systems” — lymphatic, digestive, hormonal, nervous, energy — looking for blockages, stagnation, and imbalances. The basis for the screening is tracking inflammation, which is the origin point for many disease processes.
Thermography can be used to detect a wide range of issues, from TMJ to gum and sinus infections to liver distress to cancer and beyond, though Kohlschmidt is quick to point out that, when thermography detects them, they’re not diseases yet. Rather, thermography picks up the signs that a dysfunction is developing, which might in turn become a disease. As she says, “Oftentimes, our dysfunction starts years before we feel it.” One common use case for a thermography scan is breast thermography, in which practitioners can detect potential pre-cancerous cells before they form a noticeable lump.
How Infrared Thermography Differs From Conventional Assessment Tools
One of the main qualities that differentiates infrared thermography from conventional assessment tools is when it can be used. Because of the way a thermography scan works, it is able to detect abnormalities and dysfunction far before other tests will pick them up. Kohlschmidt explains that thermography can pick up cancer cells when they’re about the size of a grain of rice, or around two years old, whereas a mammogram won’t pick it up for eight years (which explains why breast thermography is one of the most common uses for infrared thermography technology). By bringing in new information at an earlier point, infrared thermography opens up new pathways of treatment that wouldn’t be available at a later stage of the disease.
Thermography also differs from assessment tools like mammograms or ultrasounds in that it’s a functional test rather than a structural test. A functional test looks for the normal functioning of various regions of your body, whereas a structural test looks for physical deformities (like a tumor). Note that breast thermography is not a replacement for mammograms and shouldn’t be solely used to diagnose breast cancer, according to the Food and Drug Administration.
A thermography scan is also radiation-free (unlike a mammogram), non-invasive (unlike a biopsy), and doesn’t touch you (unlike an ultrasound). It’s also far more sensitive than a mammogram for detecting breast cancer in women under 50 and those with dense breasts.
Still, conventional medicine tends to discourage infrared thermography and promote tests like mammograms and ultrasounds. There are sometimes valid reasons for this, but often it ties back to the simple fact that these conventional assessment tools bring in a lot of money for hospitals and fit in with the standard protocols of biopsy → diagnose → prescribe or perform surgery.
The WellBe Takeaway: What to Know About Getting a Thermography Scan
Infrared thermography isn’t something that comes up often in the news or in regular conversations about health, but it’s a powerful tool that can help you protect your health. Here’s what to remember about this technology and how it relates to your cancer risk:
- Infrared thermography, also known as digital infrared thermal imaging (DITI) is a screening test that uses an infrared camera to detect variations in temperature and blood flow in the body.
- Though it is most often used to screen for breast cancer (breast thermography), a thermography scan can detect a wide range of diseases, like TMJ, sinus infections, and liver dysfunction.
- Thermography detects the precursors to disease, not disease itself. That means that issues are picked up at a much earlier stage, allowing for a wider range of intervention possibilities (which almost always means that non-invasive, lifestyle-based options are available).
- While conventional tests like mammograms and ultrasounds look for structural abnormalities (such as tumors), a thermography scan looks for functional issues, screening to see if everything is working as it should.
Have you ever gotten a thermography scan? What was your experience like? Tell us in the comments below!
The information contained in this article comes from our interview with Tammy Kohlschmidt, who is a Certified Clinical Thermographer, Licensed Dental Hygienist, and Certified Body Talk Practitioner as well as a founding member of the American Academy of Oral Systemic Health and a former member of Dentistry for Diabetics and Centers for Dental Medicine. You can learn more about her practice at Thermography for Health NY. The views expressed in this article are the views of the expert and not WellBe.
- Tattersall, G. et al. Infrared thermography: A non-invasive window into thermal physiology. Comp Biochem Physiol A Mol Integr Physiol. 2016 Dec; 202:78-98.
- Omranipour, R. et al. Comparison of the Accuracy of Thermography and Mammography in the Detection of Breast Cancer. Breast Care (Basel). 2016 Aug; 11(4): 260–264.
- Gautherie, M. Thermobiological assessment of benign and malignant breast diseases. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 1983 Dec 15;147(8):861-9.