Thermography or thermology is the medical science that derives diagnostic indications from highly detailed and sensitive infrared images of the human body. Thermology is sometimes referred to as medical infrared imaging or tele-thermology and utilizes highly resolute and sensitive thermographic cameras.
Medical thermography is used to determine areas of the body that have irregular blood flow. It is commonly used by sport doctors and veterinarians to determine areas of the body that have inflammation. Thermography is also used by allergy clinics.
In alternative medicine
Thermography has been promoted by some alternative medicine practitioners as a means to diagnose cancer, although it is not effective for this purpose. Health Canada has issued "cease and desist" orders to clinics offering breast thermography as a cancer diagnostic device because thermography cameras are not licensed as a medical device in Canada, and because thermography is viewed as ineffective by medical experts. The FDA has issued a public warning notice stating that breast thermography is not an alternative to mammography and has ordered Joseph Mercola to stop making excessive claims for thermography.
Thermography is discouraged in North America by the American Cancer Society, radiologists and the FDA for early breast cancer detection. Advertisements in the United Kingdom have been found to be misleading.
According to FLIR, the largest manufacturers of thermal cameras, there are studies that suggest thermography may be useful in addition to conventional radiotherapy. The FDA licensed the FLIR thermography cameras on March 9, 2004 “for use as an adjunct to other clinical diagnostic procedures in the diagnosis, quantifying, and screening of differences in skin surface temperature changes” (K033967). The cleared indication for use statement also states that the FLIR Telethermographic camera Series A, E, P and S can “visualize and document temperature patterns and changes.”
It is important for individuals to understand what the FDA has granted or cleared a particular medical infrared camera for. The FDA assigns 510(k) numbers to these devices known as 510(k) indications for use. Each IR camera manufacturer has its own assigned 510(k)number. FDA regulation number 884.2980 is not a 510(k) indication for use but instead a general classification for the entire telethermagraphic industry known as Code of Federal Regulations Title 21 Volume 8. 510(k) number K032471 seems to be the most complete from the FDA site.
In conventional medicine
More and more countries use medical thermography for screening physiological or patho-physiological processes in the body. Energetic Health Systems, the biggest supplier in the market have a 510(k) for medical software used in more than 20 countries and provide professional trainings for medical professionals at various European and US based training centers.
Differences between radiology and thermography
The biggest difference which needs to understood is what can be seen and what not. Radiology looks at anatomical changes, which is usually when there is already an anatomical change in the body. Thermography looks at the surface temperature of your skin. Proponents suggest that thermography looks at the physiological processes, which therefore can be used as preventative medicine. What have you done, or what are you doing?
- Digital infrared thermal imaging in health care
- Clinics ordered to stop 'useless' breast cancer tests, CBC News, Nov 27 2012
- FDA Safety Communication: Breast Cancer Screening - Thermography is Not an Alternative to Mammography, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration June 2, 2011
- Tsouderos, Trine (25 April 2012). "FDA warns doctor: Stop touting camera as disease screening tool". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 8 January 2013.
- "ASA Adjudication on Medical Thermal Imaging Ltd". Advertising Standards Authority. 2013-01-09. Retrieved January 5, 2015.
- Wishart GC, Campisi M, Boswell M, et al. (June 2010). "The accuracy of digital infrared imaging for breast cancer detection in women undergoing breast biopsy.". European Journal of Surgical Oncology 36 (6): 535–40. doi:10.1016/j.ejso.2010.04.003. PMID 20452740.
- "Flir System AB". FDA.