A new breast exam uses temperature to search for cancer. It's called digital infrared thermal imaging, or thermography, and it can warn women up to 10 years before other procedures that a cancer is forming.
On a thermogram image, for example, red and orange reveal heat changes in the body, and those are important clues for people like Michelle, who are too young for a mammogram but are high risk for breast cancer because of a family history. Normal healthy breast tissue shows up in cool blues and greens on the thermogram, but inflammation or heat is red hot and white hot.
"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 Tammy Leiner an advanced clinical thermographer.
The color images are generated with technology first developed by the United States military. There is no radiation in this test. So, it's even safe for women who are pregnant or nursing, but there is one problem. Not all cancers are of different temperatures. So, the thermogram won't catch every cancer. That's why even though medical experts are impressed with what the thermogram can find; they agree that it should not be used alone but along with breast self-exams at an early age, and then in conjunction with mammograms by age 40.