New tool to fight dread disease

2013-05-25 00:00

ANGELINA Jolie’s double mastectomy has been hailed as heroic by some and described as radical mutilation by others.

The threat of being diagnosed with a dread disease is a terrifying one, especially when there is a genetic predisposition or a close relative has suffered from a debilitating disease.

But invasive surgery and painful procedures are perhaps not the only options for those who fear they might be living in the shadow of death. Thermoscan is a new technology that uses medical infrared thermal imaging. The technology is able to source areas in the body where there is possible infection, blockage and disease.

The technology, developed abroad, is the latest in medical devices and is being embraced by doctors as a non-invasive and useful tool in the fight against disease.

Thermal imaging can even detect cancer cells long before traditional mammograms or X-rays and using proactive lifestyle changes and prophylactic remedies the threat of cancer can be eliminated before it becomes an established problem.

Marcelle Southey, who herself had a lump in her breast, investigated all alternative health options and was prepared to travel overseas for treatment. In the interim the lump disappeared, and she became convinced that surgery was not the only option for dealing with cancer. Her belief was that early detection and pro-active lifestyle changes could be the strongest tools in coping with any disease.

She bought a thermoscan camera and equipment after looking for the best equipment possible. The manufacturers also supply the equipment to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration for use in the space programme.

She explained: “We are all born with a heat image like a thumbprint, which should be symmetrical and should not change. When we scan the body with the camera device, the heat from the body is processed and recorded into an image map via specialised software.

“It measures the temperature variation of the asymmetrical heat image to an accuracy of 0,1°C.

“This is then analysed by an American-trained thermographic physician who writes a report.

“The report can be used by your doctor to help pinpoint the cause of your discomfort.”

Southey said thermal imaging had been used for cancer screening, arthritis, muscle and joint pain, dental pain, dermatology, diabetes, sports injuries, accidents, cardiac, unexplained pain, inflammatory disease, referred pain, digestive disorders, nerve damage, vascular and circulatory problems, thyroid, carotid artery, stroke and fractures. It can also be used on animals.

It has become very popular overseas because it is not invasive and is completely painless, whereas mammograms, which are required for women over 40, are likened to having ones breasts squeezed as flat as a pancake.

Local medical aid schemes do offer incentives to ensure women have their yearly mammograms, but a thermoscan can pick up problems in all areas of the body for less.

Pietermaritzburg patient Cindy Gaines-Burrill explained why she opted for a thermoscan.

“In March 2012 I was not well. I had lots of aches and pains, headaches, swollen lymph nodes and extreme exhaustion and simple blood tests did not show up anything. I eventually went to thermoscan in sheer desperation.

“The scan showed activity around my neck with lymph nodes and a cooling ring around my thyroid area. My arms and legs showed that there was unusual heat along my lymphatic lines, arm and leg joints and in the sacrum area of my lower back. There was also heat in my breast glands.”

The analyst believed she must have had a systemic infection.

“My doctor was not sure what to make of the analysis. Eventually I went to a specialist who tested me for Ebstein Barr and Coxsackie virus. These blood tests revealed that I had recently been infected with both these viruses.

“Ebstein Barr affects all the glands, especially in the neck and breast and causes joint pains and muscle stiffness. The thermoscan showed the inflammation in my body but obviously further blood tests were necessary to find the exact cause. At least by highlighting the inflammation in my body this gave me the resolve to continue looking for a cause.”

Craig Brown, another patient, also resorted to a thermoscan when he experienced excruciating back pain. The result of the heat imaging was a huge surprise because it showed that the source of the pain was actually the feet.

Brown had been told by two doctors to have back surgery to help control the pain, but the thermoscan had showed him that by altering his shoes and wearing a slight heel he could avoid all back pain.

Local medical aid schemes have not yet recognised the thermoscan technology, but local doctors believe it can be a useful tool.

Hilton doctor Claudine Lee said: “The benefits are a non-invasive, painless, quick screening that can be done in young women and a test that can pick up differences in temperature which then relates to increased blood flow to an area.”

But thermoscan is not a diagnostic procedure and an additional ultrasound or mammogram may be needed if there is a concern.

“Where thermoscan is beneficial [I believe] is sequentially; if as a young woman you do this year after year [either once a year or once every two years] and can spot a ‘trend’ in increased vascularity, that is then followed up by an ultrasound guided biopsy or mammogram, whichever is appropriate.”

Lee said the debate around cancer diagnosis was complex and evidence from the UK suggested the breast cancer screening debate is not cut and dried. “Essentially thermography does not replace mammography. It is different, but useful in terms of plotting very early increased blood flow to a region.”

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