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Theme Park Thermal Camera Helps Spot Breast Cancer

camera obscura breast cancer image
From the WebMD Archives

Oct. 25, 2019 -- A woman says her family was playing with a thermal camera at a tourist attraction when she noticed something strange: a bright-colored patch on one of her breasts.

Bal Gill, 41, says no one else using the heat-seeking device at Scotland’s Camera Obscura & World of Illusions seemed to have a hot spot on their chest, so she booked an appointment with her doctor. That’s when she was diagnosed with cancer.

“As it turns out I do have breast cancer, thankfully really early stages,” Gill says in a news release. “I have now had two surgeries and have one to go to prevent it from spreading.”

Gill said she wouldn’t have known she had cancer had it not been for the thermal image. “I know it’s not the intention of the camera but for me, it really was a life-changing visit.”

While Gill is fortunate to have caught her cancer early on, experts warn that thermal imaging is not the best way to detect it.

The FDA says that getting a mammogram is still the best way to screen for breast cancer and that there is no scientific evidence to support thermography -- which shows patterns of heat and blood flow -- as a substitute.

In 2017, the agency warned health care providers and thermography device makers not to mislead people into believing thermal imaging could take the place of a mammogram.

“Studies repeatedly show mammography is the most effective screening method for the early detection of breast cancer. And early detection of breast cancer saves the most lives,” says Paulette Turk, MD, a breast radiologist from Cleveland Clinic. “In fact, no current studies support the use of thermography alone or thermography in conjunction with mammography for the detection of breast cancer.”

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women worldwide. It impacts 2.1 million women each year and causes the largest number of cancer-related deaths among women, according to the World Health Organization.

Experts recommend that women 50 to 74 years old and at average risk of having breast cancer get a mammogram every 2 years. Women 40 to 49 years old should talk to their doctor about when to start and how often to get a mammogram. Women should weigh the benefits and risks of screening tests when deciding whether to begin getting mammograms before age 50.

Women should also be aware of any changes to their breasts and report them to their doctor.

WebMD Health News Reviewed by Hansa D. Bhargava, MD on October 25, 2019


News release, Camera Obscura & World of Illusions.

World Health Organization: “Breast Cancer.”

FDA: “Breast Cancer Screening: Thermogram No Substitute for Mammogram.”

Paulette Turk, MD, breast radiologist, Cleveland Clinic.

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