What is a Thermogram?

N. Madison
N. Madison

A thermogram is a type of imaging test. It involves capturing infrared images of the heat that radiates off a person’s body and using the images to detect signs of medical conditions or injuries. Abnormalities are detected because of changes in heat production that can be noted via these images. For example, if infection or abnormal growths are present, inflammation will result, causing an abnormal image to appear.

Thermograms are used to capture images of breast tissue and detect changes that may indicate the development of cancer.
Thermograms are used to capture images of breast tissue and detect changes that may indicate the development of cancer.

This type of test differs from some other imaging tests, such as x-rays, in the fact that it does not use radiation. This means a person can have thermograms as often as necessary without worrying about risking her health. Additionally, there’s no need for medical equipment to touch the body when a thermogram is performed, and the procedure does not cause pain or physical discomfort.

Thermograms are sometimes used in conjunction with mammograms.
Thermograms are sometimes used in conjunction with mammograms.

With thermogram images, colors are used to indicate cooler and warmer areas. Some equipment produces black and white pictures, with the hotter areas showing up as white and cooler areas showing up as black. Other equipment depicts images in several colors. With this type of equipment, black, blue and violet indicate cooler areas while red and orange mean the area has more heat. To indicate a middle area of temperature, green and yellow are used.

Yearly mammograms are typically recommended starting at age 40.
Yearly mammograms are typically recommended starting at age 40.

Often, thermograms are used to capture images of breast tissue and detect changes that may indicate the development of cancer. As cancer develops in a woman’s body, her body forms new blood vessels in the breast. Heat production in the area increases as well. These changes in the breast may develop and show up on a thermogram years before cancer cells develop and a lump starts to form.

Medical thermography is sometimes used to confirm a cancer diagnosis.
Medical thermography is sometimes used to confirm a cancer diagnosis.

Since a thermogram can detect breast changes so early, maybe even years before the invasion of cancer cells, it provides a way to warn patients of very early cancer growth or future risk. This allows doctors to watch patients closely and treat them very early on. Doctors may even take preventative measures to avoid cancer growth or stop it from spreading.

Sometimes thermograms are used along with mammograms. A mammogram is a low-dose x-ray that is performed on the breast. Together, these imaging procedures may provide early and more accurate detection of breast cancer growth. However, they are used in two different ways. A thermogram can be used to note heat changes in the breast, which indicates possible abnormalities. Mammograms, on the other hand, are used to detect a mass that’s developed after the cancerous cells have been in the body for quite some time.

In addition to medical uses — such as detecting cancer, soft tissue injuries and diseases that affect the blood vessels — there are many applications for thermogram technology in research and science fields. For example, an energy auditor may use it to assess insulation in buildings. Thermogram equipment may even be used to help scientists probe for life on other planets and learn about conditions there.

Thermograms can make it easier for doctors to detect breast changes early.
Thermograms can make it easier for doctors to detect breast changes early.
N. Madison
N. Madison

Nicole’s thirst for knowledge inspired her to become a wiseGEEK writer, and she focuses primarily on topics such as homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. When not writing or spending time with her four children, Nicole enjoys reading, camping, and going to the beach.

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Discussion Comments

Heavanet

I think thermographic imaging is an exciting medical advancement that helps doctors diagnose many internal issues and limit radiation exposure. Hopefully this field will continue to advance and thermogram technology will eventually be available in all areas of the country.

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