The fight against breast cancer is a fight against time and now there is new technology that can help catch cancer in its earliest stages.
Red. Orange. Green. On a thermogram image, these colors tell what's going on inside your body. 38 year old Michelle Heyerdahl has good reason to want to know more.
"My grandmother had breast cancer. She died from breast cancer. And my mother had a benign lump." says Michelle.
Michelle's too young to start regular mammograms. So, she's turning to digital infrared thermal imaging or thermography. Technology that can detect early stage breast cancer. But 7 - 10 years before a mammogram would even see it.
Advanced Clinical Thermographer Tammy Leiner says that information gives women and doctors a critical head start.
"Thermal imaging detects heat changes within the body. This is a picture of my face. You can see my cheeks and the rest of my face are normal temperature. But my nose is very cold," reports Kimberly Kane.
For Michelle and other women getting images of the breast thermography's
sensitivity reveals the danger these color variations can mean.
"Cancers and tumors need a lot of blood to grow. So, early stage inflammation patterns can be a precursor to a problem that is much further down the road." says Leiner.
Normal healthy breast tissue shows up in cool blues and greens on the thermogram. But inflammation or heat is red hot and white hot.
Here's a ductal cancer followed for one year before it first appeared on a mammogram. And the aggressive inflammatory breast cancer not detectable by mammogram or breast mri."
But clearly detectable on the thermogram. All these images are generated with technology first developed by the u-s military. There is no radiation so the test is even safe for women who are pregnant or nursing. Columbia saint mary's doctor scott tannehill says the thermogram could play promising role in cancer detection. But there is one problem.
"Not all cancers are necessarily of different temperatures." says Dr. Scott Tannehill of Columbia St. Mary's
Because of that he warns the thermogram won't catch everything. To Michelle the technology's potential to find problems early is too important for women to ignore.
"That's powerful to me. Because women could catch cancer a lot earlier or prevent it even. And then, we wouldn't have so much breast cancer." adds Michelle Heyerdahl.
Kimberly Kane for NBC News