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Health Canada warns of ineffective breast cancer test

Written by: QMI Agency
Nov. 28, 2012

Health Canada and the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation say a controversial breast cancer screening test offered across Canada is not safe or effective at detecting the disease. (QMI Agency)


Health Canada and the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation say a controversial breast cancer screening test offered across Canada is not safe or effective at detecting the disease.

Thermography, which is offered at private clinics for a fee, uses heat-sensitive imaging to detect the pattern of blood and chemical activity.

"Thermography is not recommended by any medical authority or leading cancer organization ... and there is no credible research study identifying thermography to be an effective screening tool for detecting breast cancer," the CBCF said in a statement issued by its Ontario chapter Wednesday.

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Clinics all over the country offer the service. A quick online search found two clinics, in B.C. and Ontario, that charge $250.

Proponents claim thermography can identify changes in breast tissue long before tumours form, and without radiation or needles.

"Breast thermography's ability to detect a pre-cancerous state of the breast, or signs of cancer at an extremely early stage, lies in its unique capability of monitoring the temperature variations and blood vessel alterations produced by the earliest changes in tissue physiology (function)," according to the International Academy of Clinical Thermology, based in California.

But, the IACT says, "thermography does not have the ability to pinpoint the location of a tumour." Its role is "in addition to mammography and physical examination, not in lieu of."

Health Canada agrees.

"Thermography machines are not a replacement for routine monitoring and screening for breast cancer," the agency said Wednesday. "Patients who have relied on these types of machines for breast cancer screening should contact their physician for appropriate followup and testing."

And the agency goes further, saying the test is essentially useless.

"Health Canada is not aware of any clinical evidence that thermography can be used effectively as a screening technique for the early detection of breast cancer," the agency said.

Both Health Canada and the CBCF worry that false positives can send women back for unnecessary tests or treatments. Both say only mammograms are safe and effective for screening, as well as for diaganosis.

The Canadian Cancer Society is "concerned" about false negatives, saying on its website "women who have the test will have a false sense of security about their breast health."

Health Canada does not license any thermography equipment for breast cancer screening in Canada and said it will advise all the provincial and territorial health ministers that clinics in their jurisdictions should not be promoting or using the devices for that purpose.

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