We have tried to
summarize the most frequently asked questions about
thermography here. Please click on a question to see
Can you send information about thermography to my
Absolutely, please go to the contact page and drop us
a note. We'll send your doctor a packet of
information about thermography. Please include your
name so we can let your doctor know who's interested
Who reads the studies?
All our studies are ready by board-certified
physicians (MD and DO) certified by the American College of Clinical
Thermology, or by a PhD.
As a screening study, a thermogram should be
interpreted by a licensed
health provider with portal of entry
status. Without that, there is no
accountability. Frankly, I feel more
comfortable if medical physicians read them
since they have the anatomy and physiology
training as well as the understanding of
pathology necessary to give a good
Can thermography see through my dense breast
Often, women are called back after mammograms of
younger, denser breasts for additional views.
Mammograms are an anatomical test: the radiation
penetrates the soft tissues of the breasts and some
is absorbed by denser tissues making the image we see
on the film. Thus, when the breasts are already dense
(as they are before menopause), it is difficult to
tell if there are abnormalities since there is
already dense tissues in the breast that are normal
Thermography is not looking through the breast: it
is a test of physiology. The blood flow to the
tissues is reflected in the heat patterns the
camera picks up. The abnormal blood flow to
cancerous tissues will show up regardless of the
density of the breasts. For this reason,
thermography is especially suited for the breasts
that would otherwise get multiple views with a
How much does it cost?
The camera, designed specifically for medical
thermography with high precision temperature
measurement, cost quite a bit, but you're probably
looking for what a study will cost you. Please go to
the "Your study" page for
Do I have to stick my hand in ice water?
The "cold stress test" is used to suppress the normal
blood vessels in the skin and leave abnormal blood
vessels easy to spot. It can be quite helpful in
finding abnormal blood flow when used precisely.
Unfortunately, many practitioners aren't using the
strict protocol and getting poor results.
This leads to false negative tests: missed cancers.
If a thermal image is abnormal, it should be
followed up on, regardless of whether the cold
stress test makes it go away.
While three proponents of thermography dispute the
benefit of the cold stress test (Dr.
Cockburn), the data they are basing their
view on is using the test imprecisely.
Everyone agrees that a legitimate reason to use
cold stress testing these days is for reflex
sympathetic dystrophy, for which this is a
What is this TH-1, TH-2, etc. grading system I've
These are a grading system that was developed in an
attempt to make a reliable grading system for
thermography. However, thermal imaging doesn't lend
itself to this arbitrary scale: it implies a greater
precision than is really there. In addition, it may
discourage people from getting appropriate follow-up
if the grade isn't high enough. If the study is
abnormal, it should be looked into further.
All the grading system does is give a measure of
how abnormal the study is without specifying the
abnormality. Imagine an X-ray for a breathing
problem: a big tumor, a pneumonia or a collapsed
lung would all cause the problem and we need to
know which it is, not just that it's abnormal. A
physician reading the study can differentiate.
Dr. Cockburn, who's been involved in thermography
over 20 years and teaches interpretation, issued a
dropping the thermal rating system in 2005.
What should I do if I have an abnormal result?
Please include the physician or care provider you
would like to have the results sent to (you will also
get a full-color copy). We can send an information
packet to your physician or care provider.
Appropriate follow-up for an abnormal study ranges
from mammography to ultrasound and MRI, but your
health care provider should discuss your result with
you and find the best way for you investigate the
Any time the report suggests "clinical evaluation"
or "clinical correlation", that means you need to
have a doctor take a look at it.
Remember, the only way to diagnose cancer is with
tissue, so nothing less than a biopsy can tell for
sure if something is cancer.
Unfortunately, Dr. Sickels is booked up a few months
in advance for new patients. Abnormal results
(especially anything that says that clinical
evaluation is recommended) should be followed up
promptly with your physician to ensure the best
However, occasionally there is an opening with dr.
Sickels or his nurse practitioner, Gaia Kile. It
never hurts to ask.
If you need to find a new practitioner more quickly
than you can get in with dr. Sickels, you can find
other practitioners under the "find other doctors"
tab on Dr. Sickels' links page.
How deep does the camera "see"?
Thermal imaging can only see the surface of the skin,
however the autonomic nervous system controls the
blood flow to the skin and so this will reflect the
state of the tissues under the skin.
So, while saying that "thermography only sees the
first millimeters of depth" is technically true, it
misses the physiological response that controls the
temperature at the surface. Just as someone's
turning red with embarrassment is an autonomic
response to an emotional reaction, the changes seen
with thermography are an autonomic response to the
So, the surface heat patterns do show what's going