A Focus on Prevention, Breast Thermography, and what YOU can do to reduce your risk!
For my entire Nurse Practitioner career spanning 15 years, breast cancer and it’s screening controversies have been central issues in my patients’ lives. In fact, for most women reading this article over the age of 35, breast cancer is a major concern. The facts on breast cancer explain why. Here are some general statistics:
- 1 in 8 women who lives to 85 will develop breast cancer
- 15% of all breast cancers occur in younger women under age 45. Breast cancers for this age group tend to be aggressive and grow fast.
- Breast cancer is, in fact, the leading cause of death for women ages 49-55.
Obviously, this is a statistically scary disease prospect, and most women are ready to do anything to prevent it. My youngest patient with breast cancer was only 19 years old. This scared the heck out of me, as I was only 29 years old, and you can bet I went and got my first breast thermogram after that patient visit! What is a breast thermogram you may ask? This and much more will be covered in the pages ahead, because there is A LOT you can do to prevent this deadly disease!
A Review of Signs and Symptoms of Breast Cancer
Seventy per cent of breast cancers are found through breast self exam, NOT mammograms or a health care provider’s exam. We encourage women to check their breasts and become familiar with their own breast tissue. This will help women ascertain early discovery of breast lumps and changes. If you do not know how to check your breasts, please set up a short appointment with me to review. Here is a list of the most common signs or symptoms of breast cancer that women should be aware of. They are in no particular order of importance:
- A change in your breast’s size or shape
- Pain or tenderness in your breast that is unusual for you
- A nipple that suddenly becomes inverted
- Swelling in your armpit that may or may not be painful
- A breast lump or thickening of your breast tissue that feels unusual or different
- Any discharge from your breast (that is not related to breast feeding) and particularly if it is bloody
- Changes on the skin on your breast such as dimpling or indentation
- Redness or pitting of your breast skin. These breast changes look similar to the skin of an orange
- Flaking skin on your nipple
If you notice any of these changes in your breast, please call us immediately for a breast exam
Current Protocol for Breast Cancer Detection
The standard of care in the US and most of the world involves one very simple strategy: mammograms. There is confusion regarding the current protocol. The American Cancer Association is still recommending annual mammograms starting at age 40. The U.S. Preventative Task Force is recommending that mammograms start at age 50. Most doctors are practicing “in the middle” by recommending every other year mammograms after age 40 and every year after age 50. While the statistic is firm that 70% of breast cancer lumps are detected by women during their own breast self exam, the U.S. Preventative Task Force is NOT recommending women do their own breast exams. This is all very confusing for women, and rightly so.
The Controversy Surrounding Mammograms
We are lucky to have very educated and aware patients in this practice. Many of you are already aware that there is a controversy surrounding the safety and efficacy of mammography and that breast thermography is in growing demand as a screening tool. For those of you who don’t know, I will briefly review the controversies on the use of mammography as THE ONLY screening tool available to women.
- Ionized Radiation: Who doesn’t know that ionized radiation is a cancer risk? All of us are aware of this health FACT. According to Dr. Mercola, from pages 3-4 his article “Breast Cancer Breakthrough—Cut your Risk of Death in Half” dated February14, 2011: “It is well known that ionizing radiation increases the cellular mutations that lead to cancer—as mammograms aim a highly focused dose directly at your breasts, thereby increasing your cancer risk!” He continues: “Mammograms expose your body to radiation that can be 1,000 times greater than a chest x-ray, which we know poses a cancer risk. Mammography also compresses your breasts tightly, and often painfully, which could lead to a lethal spread of cancerous cells, should they exist. “ So, should you be concerned that you are radiating your breasts every year during your mammogram? We certainly worry about it, and so do many other health care providers here and around the country.
The controversy is heating up in Europe as well. Recently, Peter Gotzsche, director of the independent Nordic Cochrane Collaboration, has been lambasting mammography screening and the risk of radiation. To read more on him you may read his book, Mammography Screening: Truth, Lies and Controversy. He is quoted in an article dated January 23, 2012 from the UK’s The Guardian, as saying: “Hundreds of millions of women have been seduced into attending screening without knowing it could harm them. This is a violation of their human rights and is the main reason we have done so much research on mammography screening and also why I have written this book.” Strong words questioning mammography screening protocols coming from one of the top researchers in the EU.
- Inability to Screen Women with Dense Breasts Effectively: It is well known and common knowledge that mammography is not a good screening test for women with dense or fibrocystic breasts. This is a high percentage of women! They have a high false positive rate leading them to ultrasounds and unnecessary needle biopsies which are both scary and painful. If you have any question about this fact, just read your mammogram consent form where it will say in plain English that it is not a great screening test for women with dense breasts. It is on the consent form to protect them from lawsuits and liability should they miss a cancer when they screen dense breasts. Should women with dense breasts be given other screening options? We think so.
- High False Positive Rate: Mammograms have a high false positive rate leading to unnecessary biopsies and anxiety as well as unnecessary treatment. In a January 5th, 2012 article in greenmedinfo.com they quote Gotzsche and Nielsen’s 2009 Cochrane review, titled “Screening for breast cancer with mammography” where this problem of false positives is addressed:
Screening led to 30% overdiagnosis and overtreatment, or an absolute risk increase of 0.5%. This means that for every 2000 women invited for screening throughout 10 years, one will have her life prolonged and 10 healthy women, who would not have been diagnosed if there had not been screening, will be treated unnecessarily (bold type mine). Furthermore, more than 200 women will experience important psychological distress for many months because of false positive findings. It is thus not clear whether screening does more good than harm.
It is a scary prospect indeed to think that 10 women out of 2000 will get treated for cancer unnecessarily simply because they followed screening advice.
I want to make it CRYSTAL CLEAR that we are not opposed to mammography and that we will at times recommend it: it is an important screening tool that will detect tumor structures. What we do support is the judicious use of this tool and the INCLUSION of other strategies so that women have all their options in preventing breast cancer.
Breast Thermography: The Screening Tool that is Safe and Effective and Highly Underutilized
Breast thermography, otherwise known as digital infrared thermal imaging, is an alternative screening option for women rarely discussed or offered at conventional doctor offices. Nonetheless, it has been growing in popularity here and in Europe as more and more women seek out screening methods that don’t radiate their breasts. Additionally, large number of published research studies are showing the benefits of thermography with little, if any, drawbacks. The facts on thermography lead one to question why this test is not used more often by the medical society at large. Here are some bullet points on the pros of using thermograms as an adjunct screening tool:
- FDA approved since 1982 as an adjunctive screening tool.
- Patients will get no radiation during the test.
- It is non-invasive (no injection or touching or squeezing the breast tissue)
- Women from any age can benefit from the information.
- Considered the earliest and safest breast cancer screening tool
- Thermograms are much cheaper than mammograms making them cost effective
- Thermograms reveal vital information regarding hormonal effects on breast tissue and generalized inflammation.
What Thermography Measures
Breast thermograms measure infrared heat from your body which can detect signs of breast cancer as early as 10 years in advance of tumor development that neither mammography nor physical exams can assess The infrared imaging gives the woman and her health care provider vital information about her breasts. Namely, the level of inflammation she has developing in her breast tissue. Inflammation is heralded as the start point for most cancer tumor development.
What this means to you is that thermograms can predict the likelihood of your developing breast cancer long before a tumor has formed. Breast thermograpy gives women ample time—as much as 10 years advanced warning!– to address a preventative plan including lifestyle changes and supplements to reverse their risk of breast cancer. TEN years! I highlight this because, who doesn’t want 10 years advanced notice of their risk of cancer? Who out there does not want to know BEFORE the tumor develops? Determining your cancer risk before a tumor develops is our goal here, and we recommend thermography to all our patients.
Following is an interview with Donna Scippa, FNP who we refer our patients to for breast thermograms. Donna uses FDA approved equipment and is passionate about preventing breast cancer. Read on!
Interview with Donna Scippa, FNP, CTT (Certified Thermography Technician)
And a member of the IACT (international association of certified thermographers.)
(1) How did you decide to become a Breast Thermographer?
There were a number of reasons, but the most significant was that things didn’t seem to be a whole lot different in healthcare since my mother died of breast cancer decades ago. I really wanted to make a difference in the lives of women in a way that increased their chances of survival. It’s more about prevention for me which is the opposite of conventional breast cancer mammography screenings where we sit there and wait for the cancer to show up instead of doing something proactive. Thermography was an opportunity to do this type of screening and prevention. Thermography results often give women the quantitative information that they need to support their healthcare choices and point them in the right direction. We see their repeat thermograms and inflammation improve as they take their health more seriously after an abnormal thermogram reading.
(2) Why should women get a Thermogram?
Because it is the earliest and safest screening tool that we have, and regardless of age or risk factors or breast tissue including implants—even pregnant and nursing moms—can have this test done with no abnormal side effects or toxic risks. There is no radiation exposure in this test.
(3) What kind of information do we get from your thermograms? What do we see on them and what does it mean?
It shows us areas of excess heat that reflect a state of inflammation. This could be an early cancer forming, a hormone imbalance such as estrogen dominance, or it could be lymphatic stagnation. Once your provider receives the results, they can do further testing to determine what is causing this inflammation, and integrative medical practices such yours at Dr. Morgan and Associates have protocols in place for guiding the treatment of abnormal thermograms. As you know, Marya, there’s a lot women can do to be proactive in protecting their health!
(4) When should women start getting thermograms and why?
Baseline thermograms should start as early as age 20, and be done every 3 years until 30 because it gives valuable info about this young women’s risk and allows us time to give her preventative tools to avoid the development of breast cancer. At ages 30 and over, it is recommended that women get a thermogram every year so they can get a headstart on any abnormal changes we see going forward.
(5) What should women expect at their thermography appointment?
When they arrive at the office, we review their breast history. Then we get to the test. They spend 15 minutes acclimating to a room that’s cooled to about 64 degrees farenheit, disrobed from the waist up. After acclimating for 15 minutes, I come in the room and we do the photographs which take anywhere from 5-10 minutes. Then you’re done! Occasionally, I get asked to do photos of thyroid glands and full body, and that changes the time frames, obviously. I generally ask women to allow about an hour so that they don’t feel rushed, and they can have their questions answered.
(6) Who reads your photos?
All of my images are read by Dr. William Amalu who is a board certified Thermologist, DC and an engineer with close to 20 years experience in the field. For more info www.breastthermography.com. He is one of the most experienced thermography interpreters in the country.
****[he read my first thermogram I mentioned earlier that occurred 14 years ago! Even back in 1999 he was considered one of the top thermogram interpreters in the entire United States]
(7) Why do you think conventional medical standards have not included this great screening tool?
I think the biggest reason is that there is too much investment in mammography and an unwillingness to look at the research behind thermography. Almost a “too big to fail” type of scenario. The fact of the matter is that mammograms are only 85% sensitive (best case scenario) and even less reliable in women with really dense breasts. The other issue is that mammograms are ionizing radiation, which we all know causes cancer. So the bigger question is, why aren’t we finding safer screening tests for women instead of demanding that they radiate their breasts every year? Why don’t we have 3D ultrasound and thermography available to every woman? I am not saying that we should never do mammograms. I am saying that if other tests were available, we could use mammography and it’s radiation more judiciously.
(8) Can a woman have a normal thermogram and still have cancer?
Thermography is 90% sensitive and specific which means that it could miss about 10% of cancers. Most of these will be what we call the “cold” cancers, the Ductal Carcinoma In Situ because these cancers do not require a large blood supply. Therefore, they tend to be slow growing and do not have the vascularity that would show up on a thermogram. This is versus mammography, which is 85% specific, a specificity lower than thermography, especially in women with dense breast tissue. So, overall, breast thermography benefits women as much or more than mammograms. We are not saying to throw out mammography, but that thermography should be used as an adjunctive screening tool given that women receive ZERO radiation and a higher sensitivity rate. None of these tests are “stand alone” tests. They should all be used together.
(9) Anything else you would like our patients to know?
I encourage all women to be proactive about their breast health. Thermography is one of the easiest ways to get the information you need to help you prevent inflammatory conditions in the body and breast including breast cancer! What thermography affords is providing women the best possible care by increasing their options. Thermography allows us to use mammography more judiciously. Additionally, for women with dense breasts, thermography should absolutely be a part of their preventative care since mammography is so much less specific and sensitive when it comes to dense breast tissue.
What could be better? A test with no pain, costs less, requires no radiating, has a higher sensitivity rate than mammograms (90% versus 85%), can tell you ten years in advance that your risk is increasing, and is highly effective for women with dense breasts!
Donna Scippa FNP, CTT may be reached for an appointment by calling (415) 299-0396. Please mention that you are one of our patients and you will receive a modest discount.
So, what CAN you do to prevent your risk?
Prevention is one of Dr. Camp and my favorite topics! With a screening tool like thermography, prevention is made easy as we see a woman’s thermogram start to change for the better as her lifestyle and supplement program gets implemented after an abnormal thermogram reading. It’s great for you to see your progress. Breast thermography gives all of us the QUANTITATIVE data we need to see that your breast cancer risk is improving! It’s very exciting.
Here’s how it works: your initial thermogram serves as a baseline look at your level or inflammation and risk. We will implement a program for you which may include further testing, including bloodword and/or mammography if warranted (Again, mammograms are a GOOD test when used appropriately), lifestyle changes and supplement recommendations.. Your repeat thermograms will show improvement as you reduce your inflammation and your risk!
The Nitty Gritty of Prevention
We won’t wait for you to get a thermogram to start working on your prevention program! Here are the recommended strategies for reducing your breast cancer risk!
- Include cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower in your diet regularly, preferably several times a week.
- Use garlic, shallots and onions in your cooking to slash your cancer risk.
- Turmeric: this spice is getting more and more press for being a cancer buster! I add it to almost all stir-fries. It’s flavor is delicious. Use liberally!
- Avoid chemicals, pesticides, and additives in your food. Yes, that means choosing non-genetically modified, organic vegetables, and meats that have NOT been given antibiotics, are free range, and beef MUST be GRASS FED! Stop eating cancer causing toxins! We live in an area where healthy options are readily available. Make the choice today!
- Avoid unfermented soy products. Many are genetically modified and the estrogenic effect of soy may increase your risk. Fermented soy such as an organic miso paste is totally safe! I recommend Cold Mountain Mellow Red Hawaiian Style Miso paste. It tastes delicious, is organic and not genetically modified. You can find it at Whole Foods or your local health food store.
- Avoid Alcohol. Women should definitely limit their drinking to no more than one drink per day to reduce cancer risk. Alcohol reduces the liver’s ability to metabolize estrogens correctly and will cause the increase of Estrone—the “bad” estrogen that is linked to cancer formation.
- Drastically reduce your sugar and high fructose intake. Cancer cells are metabolically more active than your normal cells and sugar will “feed” the cancer like no other food item. Sugar is also inflammatory in general causing obesity, adrenal fatigue, insulin and leptin resistance, diabetes, and high cholesterol to name a few.
- Drink Green Tea! Green tea has powerful anti-oxidants that help prevent and kill cancer cells. Find an organic green tea you like and sip on it daily!
- Anti Inflammatory Diet: this diet includes eating high doses of organic greens such as Kale with at least 2 meals per day, green tea at least once daily, low glycemic, sugar free, gluten free, minimal dairy, if any, only for seasoning, raw and organic if possible, no genetically modified foods.
Supplements for Reducing Your Breast Cancer Risk:? (Click on the names to see the items in our online store)
- Iodine: Iodine is a major anti-inflammatory agent and our reproductive organs including the breasts use LOTS and LOTS of iodine. It is also absolutely necessary for optimal thyroid function. Signs of iodine deficiency include thyroid nodules, ovarian cysts and fibrocystic breasts. Please talk to us about bio-available iodine such as iodoral or lugol’s solution and the correct dose if you would like to add this to your regimen. Iodized table salt is NOT effective! Please see the medical studies recognizing iodine as an adjunct treatment to breast cancer on our web site under “medical studies.” Why wait for the cancer, start using an appropriate dose NOW, and optimize your thyroid hormones while you are at it!
- Progesterone: Bioidentical progesterone is an anti-cancer hormone. It is vitally important to reduce the unwanted effects of estrogen dominance. If you suffer from sore breasts during PMS, long heavy periods, or excessive irritability, you may be estrogen dominant and should come in right away for Dr. Camp or myself to assess you. Progesterone is a prescription item and requires an appointment in most cases.
- Xanthomega Krill Oil: Krill oil is a high potent omega-3 fatty acid. It is suggested to be literally thousands of times more effective at reducing inflammation (due to it’s 12 mg of astaxanthin) than standard Omega-3 supplements from salmon or cod, and is regularly prescribed as a supplement to reduce inflammatory conditions including breast cancer.
- DIM: Otherwise known as diindolylmethane, it is the active component of cruciferous vegetables that reduces cancer risk. DIM is recognized as promoting beneficial estrogen metabolism and is helpful in managing estrogen dominant conditions including breast cancer, uterine fibroids, fibrocystic breasts, and other hormone related cancers. It specifically reduces the metabolism of your estrogen into estrone, the form of estrogen linked to cell proliferation and cancer growth.
- FemGuard: This is one of our favorite combination supplements for reducing breast cancer risk. You may find it in our online store. Aside from some B vitamins, magnesium, and other helpful enzymes, it incorporates large doses of DIM, green tea extract, turmeric, and Calcium-d Glucarate, a powerful supplement to reduce your breast cancer risk.
- 2–methoxyestradiol: This is a compounded form of estrogen that reduces cell proliferation. Translation: 2-methoxyestradiol is a form of estrogen that is an anti-cancer agent. Additionally, it is known to reduce uterine fibroid tumors. If you would like to see the research on this product, please go to our website http://www.drcamphealth.com and click on “medical studies”. If you suffer from fibroids or would like to use this product, you must set up an appointment with Dr. Camp or myself by logginf into your account, clicking HERE, or calling (415) 383-9903 as this is a prescription item.
Reduce Lymph Congestion:
- Stop wearing underwire bras! That’s right: the underwire in bras is implicated with the development of breast cancer. Your lymph system is responsible for clearing toxins from your system. Underwire bras cut off the circulation of your lymph system and trap toxins in your breasts creating inflammation. This is distressing to large busted women to hear that they may have to give up their underwire support. However you may find a large selection of no underwire bras that are very supportive for large busted women. However, Coobie Bras has created very good support in a non-underwire bra specifically for large busted women. Go to www.shopcoobie.com for Coobie’s full selection of non-underwire bras.
- Practice Lymph Massage: Patients may go to a lymph massage practitioner at least once to learn how to do their own breast lymph massage to help remove the congestion. Please call us for a referral if you are interested in learning how to do breast lymphatic massage.
- Exercise helps you maintain a normal body weight. This is important as fat creates excess estrogen and this is a cancer risk.
- Exercise improves liver metabolism of estrogens and will promote the metabolism of the “good” estrogen that reduces your cancer risk, Estriol.
- Exercise will help reduce fasting insulin levels and improve blood sugar averages. Having high circulating insulin levels and high blood sugars are implicated in increased inflammation and an increase in cancer risk.
Important Lab Tests:
- Vitamin D: Vitamin D is becoming a critical factor in cancer treatment and prevention. The standard goal for Vitamin D levels for both men and women are for levels between 50-70. For women diagnosed with breast cancer and in treatment, the ideal range increases to 80-100. My goal for all my female patients is between 60-80.
- Fasting Insulin and Hemoglobin A1C: Having high fasting insulin levels or being insulin resistant as well as having high blood sugar averages over 95 puts you at more risk for developing breast cancer. These tests will help us devise a plan to reduce these levels and normalize your blood sugars thereby reducing your breast cancer risk.
My hope for Breast Cancer Awareness Month (October) and writing this newsletter has been that women feel a sense of control over this deadly disease that is the number 1 killer as women age. Hopefully, this information has given you a sense that there are many, many things you have control over to prevent this disease. We recommend that every woman get a baseline thermogram as soon as possible so that we are all aware of your actual risk and can help you accordingly. Lastly, we want you to know that you have a health partner and advocate on your side. Dr. Camp and I want all our patients to know, both male and female, that we route for you to have choices, options, and the latest in prevention!
Written by Marya Grosse FNP
Nurse Practitioner at Morgan Camp, MD & Associates