- In May, a woman visited Edinburgh, Scotland’s Camera Obscura & World of Illusions museum, where she got souvenir images from a thermal camera.
- In the images, she noticed a heat patch over her breast, CNN reported, and after taking them to her doctor, she learned she had early-stage breast cancer.
- Although the thermal cameras did detect Gill’s breast cancer, these devices aren’t proven to detect breast cancer even when they’re used in a medical setting.
- Mammograms are the best way to screen for and detect breast cancer.
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A 41-year-old woman got more than she bargained for when thermal cameras in a Scottish tourist attraction tipped her off to the fact she may have breast cancer.
In May, Bal Gill visited Edinburgh, Scotland’s Camera Obscura & World of Illusions museum and was later checking out souvenir images she’d gotten from a thermal camera at the attraction. In the images, she noticed a heat patch over her breast, CNN reported.
After doing some internet searches about what that heat patch could mean, Gill learned they could be breast cancer-related and decided to take the images to her doctor. There, she was diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer.
“I just wanted to say thank you: Without that camera, I would never have known. I know it’s not the intention of the camera but for me, it really was a life-changing visit,” Gill wrote in a letter that’s now published on Camera Obscura’s website.
Gill also said she’s already had two surgeries to prevent the cancer from spreading and is getting ready for a third.
Although the thermal cameras did detect Gill’s breast cancer, these machines aren’t proven breast cancer-detection devices — even when they’re used in a medical setting.
Thermal cameras aren’t a trusted device to detect breast cancer
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, thermography, or using infrared cameras to show areas of heat and blood flow in the body, is not an accurate or scientifically proven way to diagnose cancer because these devices have a high chance of delivering false negative or false positives.
“Thermography devices are not sensitive or specific enough to be a trusted method to detect breast cancer,” Caroline Rubin, vice president for clinical radiology at The Royal College of Radiologists, told CNN, adding that, “in Ms. Gill’s case, the discovery was serendipitous.”
In February, the FDA even released a warning that homeopathic clinics and health spas have marketed these devices as proper breast cancer-detection methods when in reality, they are not. In some instances, these clinics have wrongfully asserted that their thermography methods can detect cancer sooner than other devices and have given patients incorrect information about their health, the FDA wrote.
The agency also warned that this misinformation about thermography could make people choose the scientifically unproven method over a mammogram, which is the best known way to screen for cancer.
Although the FDA has cleared thermography for marketing as a health service, the agency clarified that it should only be used as a supplement to a mammogram and not in place of one.
Mammograms are the best way to screen for cancer
Mammograms are X-rays that examine the breast tissue in order to screen for breast cancer. Women are recommended to get routine mammograms starting at age 40 and return every one to two years, according to the Mayo Clinic. Women who have a higher risk of developing breast cancer may be advised to start getting mammograms earlier.
A November 2018 study found that, compared to people who weren’t regularly getting mammograms, those who got regular ones had a 47% lower risk of dying from breast cancer within 20 years of their diagnosis, which is the time frame in which most breast cancer deaths occur after diagnosis.
According to the American College of Radiology, when regular mammography exams became popular in the 1980s, breast cancer deaths in women in the United States decreased 43%. Men aren’t recommended to get regular mammograms even though they can also develop breast cancer, and their breast cancer death rate has remained the same, according to ACR.