Frequently Asked Questions

We have tried to summarize the most frequently asked questions about thermography here. Please click on a question to see the answer.

Can you send information about thermography to my doctor?

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 in it.

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 interpretation.

Can thermography see through my dense breast tissue?

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 and expected.
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 mammogram.

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 the costs.

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. Amalu, Dr. Leando, 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 diagnostic test.

What is this TH-1, TH-2, etc. grading system I've seen?

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 statement 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 abnormality.
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.

Is there more than one kind of thermography?

Yes, thermography is a useful technology that can be used in various ways, both in medicine and other fields.
It has been used in veterinary medicine for over 30 years, and is used for surveying the spine by chiropractors.
It is also used to find heat loss from buildings (and can help you save money!), and in industrial applications to find potential problem areas.
It is even used by the police!

Can I discuss my results with Dr. Sickels?

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 outcomes.
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 tissues underneath.
So, the surface heat patterns do show what's going on underneath.