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Health Groups Warn Against Thermography As Screening Tool

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Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Wellington, Sept 22 NZPA - Health groups are warning women not to forgo regular breast cancer screening in favour of thermography because it has not been proved effective in detecting cancer.

Thermography, which produces an image of heat distribution on the surface of the body, has been promoted as a tool for the early detection of breast cancer.

But health groups including the Ministry of Health's National Screening Unit, the Cancer Society and the College of Radiologists say there is insufficient evidence to support thermography as a reliable breast cancer screening option.

A 2003 independent review of the international literature concluded there was not enough evidence to support thermography for population screening, or as a diagnostic tool for detecting breast cancer.

It is not recommended or used in the breast cancer screening programmes in the United Kingdom, Europe and Australia.

National Screening Unit spokeswoman Julia Peters said she was worried about increasing promotion of thermography as a way to detect early breast cancer.

"We are concerned that women who undergo thermography may delay visiting their doctor with a significant breast cancer symptom, or not have a mammogram because they believe thermography is an adequate replacement," she said.

Breast and general surgeon Belinda Scott said she had seen women who had been reassured by thermography, but were later found to have cancer after undergoing a mammogram.

"This is extremely upsetting for these women who then need surgery for an invasive disease and may have had their diagnosis delayed because of the reassurance from a normal thermogram," Dr Scott said.

Mike Baker, of the College or Radiographers, said such occurrences were increasing and "extremely distressing" for women.

The health groups are calling on breast thermography providers to fully inform women of its potential harms.

Dr Peters said this included providing information about the likelihood of false positive and false negative results, the costs involved, and the lack of proof of its effectiveness as a screening tool.

Women aged 45 to 69 were encouraged to take advantage of the national breast screening programme.

"Unlike thermography, breast screening offered as part of this programme is proven to reduce a woman's risk of dying of breast cancer, and is free to all eligible women," Dr Peters said.

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