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No-touch breast scans may be ineffective in detecting cancer

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Infrared thermography may not accurately predict breast cancers, a new study has found. In women who had biopsies following suspicious-looking radiologic exams, so-called No-Touch Breast Scans either missed too many cancers or recorded too many false negatives, depending on the mode to which it was set.

Based on these results, infrared screening is not a successful adjunct to mammography, and it cannot replace any of the screening tools in standard practice, the researchers conclude.

The NTBS generates a score reflective of blood flow patterns based on the theory of tumor angiogenesis.

“It certainly does not replace mammography as the gold standard for detection,” Dr. Andrea Barrio, who took part in the study at Bryn Mawr Hospital in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, said at a press conference May 4 at the American Society of Breast Surgeons’ annual meeting in Phoenix, Arizona.

“I think we were all waiting for confirmation that it works and we were disappointed that it didn’t,” said Dr. Deanna Attai, Director of the Center for Breast Care, Inc. in Burbank, California, who was not involved in the study.

Dr. Attai, who moderated the press conference, spoke afterward with Reuters Health. The results will also disappoint patients, many of whom opt for infrared thermography to avoid the radiation exposure inherent in a mammogram, Dr. Attai said.

Dr. Barrio’s team studied 178 women with architectural distortions seen on mammogram. The patients underwent thermography prior to biopsy.

The first thermographic analyses were done at high-specificity settings. While biopsy found 52 positive cases in 50 patients, thermography registered only 26 of those as positive, for a sensitivity of 50%. There were 132 negative biopsies, but thermography registered only 88, for a specificity of 67%.

To further test the scan, 173 of the normal contralateral breasts were scanned and 42 (25%) tested positive.

The patients’ scans were then reevaluated retrospectively using a high-sensitivity mode to reduce false negatives. For this second round, 156 patients had readable scans. There were 46 positive biopsies from 44 patients, 40 of which were caught by thermography for a sensitivity of 87%.

There were 116 negative biopsies from 112 patients, but thermography registered only 55 as negative, for a specificity of 48%.

“We would all love to have a less toxic screening tool for cancer,” Dr. Attai said. “It just turns out that so far thermography has not held up. Maybe they’ll find out over longer follow-up that it holds up. But we can’t make the conclusion right now.”