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Published May 20, 2012, 11:30 PM

Saying goodbye to mammograms: Cancer survivors switch to thermography

CASSLETON, N.D. - Kathy Rutz of Casselton and Kari McLean of rural Wheatland are both breast cancer survivors who have given up mammograms.

By: Tracy Frank, INFORUM

CASSLETON, N.D. - Kathy Rutz of Casselton and Kari McLean of rural Wheatland are both breast cancer survivors who have given up mammograms.

Rutz had a bad experience when her breast and armpit were squished into the machine during a procedure four years ago, causing perpetual pain, she said.

“Ever since then, I’ve been miserable,” she said.

While she can’t say there’s a connection, it’s in that area where she developed the cancerous tumor she discovered last September, she said.

Mammograms are X-rays of the breast and require small doses of radiation, according to the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health. While the risk of harm from the radiation exposure is low, repeated X-rays can cause cancer, the institute’s website states.

That’s a risk Rutz and McLean are not willing to take.

“From what I’ve been reading on the more holistic types of websites and books on curing cancer naturally, they say that squishing can cause the cells to change or mutate and actually can cause cancer,” McLean said. “I’m just staying away from it based on that information and the doctors are scolding me every time I go in there, but I’m really comfortable with this.”

Both women see their doctors regularly and they’re getting thermography scans to monitor their breast health.

Thermography, also known as digital infrared thermal imaging, is a painless, noninvasive, clinical test without any exposure to radiation used to detect breast disease at an early stage, according to Meditherm, a digital infrared thermal imaging company.

Thermography shows metabolic and pathological changes through the heat patterns of the body using medical infrared cameras. Those changes may be an early indication of disease, Meditherm states on its website.

McLean has had four scans and they went from a lot of red and orange and yellow, indicating irritation, to a lot of blue, she said.

Rutz’s first thermography scan was in April, and she’s planning another one in July to make sure there are no changes.

“I’m very confident and faith-filled that I’m going to be all right,” she said.

Thermography itself does not detect cancer. It has no claim in diagnosis, and it does not perform any of the same roles as structural tests like mammography, ultrasound, or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), said Peter Leando with Meditherm.

It also does not show tumors, calcifications, lumps, cysts or any other structural lesions and cannot help with location of lesions or biopsy, he said.

What it does is detect and monitor inflammation, vascular change and abnormality, including angiogenesis (the growth of new capillary blood vessels in the body), lymph abnormality, and hormonal change such as estrogen dominance, he said.

It’s a screening test that provides early detection of changes and gives patients the opportunity for earlier diagnosis, using diagnostic tests like ultrasound or MRI, after a thermography scan alerts patients to suspicious changes, Leando said.

Both Rutz and McLean said if their scans showed any suspicious changes, they would be willing to undergo further testing with an ultrasound or MRI.

Diane Rother owns North Star Wisdom, a holistic health practice in Bloomington, Minn., and is a certified massage therapist, a certified clinical thermographer and has a doctorate in holistic nutrition.

She offers thermography scans in the Fargo area three times a year – in April, July and October.

“Because thermography is noninvasive, if we could start scanning women earlier than later and combining it with ultrasound when we see problems and look at possible solutions to what we’re seeing, I think that would lower the rate of breast cancer,” Rother said.

There is no medical test that can pick up all breast cancers, including thermography, she said. But thermography is good for women of all ages, including women with dense, fibrous breast tissue, which can sometime make mammograms difficult to interpret, Rother said.

The scan involves disrobing from the top up and sitting in a cool room while wearing a gown or shawl for about 15 minutes while the body cools down. During that time, Rother takes her clients’ health history. The scan itself involves sitting topless in front of a camera for about five minutes, Rother said.

Rother shows clients their scans before they leave and spends time talking to them about simple breast health techniques they can do themselves, she said.

The scan costs $170 for one region of the body. Each additional region is $70. At this time, insurance does not cover thermography, but many flex and health savings plans allow it as part of the deductions taken from the accounts, she said.

Thermography scans can also be used to monitor health issues in other areas of the body, Rother said.

A more natural approach

McLean found out she had breast cancer two years ago and had a mastectomy. Then doctors found cancer cells in a raised spot near the end of her scar so she had more of the area removed.

Mammograms did not detect McLean’s tumor even though it was large and an MRI did not catch the cancer near her scar after her mastectomy, she said.

Doctors also wanted her to go through radiation treatment, but McLean said no.

“They scold and scold and scold,” she said. “I’m not one to take pills. I don’t like chemicals. I’ve done enough reading. I feel comfortable with this. The only place I found peace was when I decided not to do the radiation.”

Rutz had been making an appointment for a mammogram when she felt the small lump in her breast, she said.

She has since had a lumpectomy but opted not to go through chemotherapy or radiation treatment.

“I’m one of the fortunate people. I found this early, by the grace of God,” said Rutz, whose cancer was stage 1 when she caught it. “Because I did catch it so early, I felt like I had a fighting chance.”

Both women have done a lot of research and are using a more natural approach in their cancer treatment. They’ve drastically changed their eating habits and no longer wear restrictive underwire bras because they don’t allow the lymph to drain as well, they said.

Lymph is a clear fluid that travels through arteries and circulates through tissues to cleanse them. Lymph nodes filter out and trap bacteria, viruses, cancer cells and other unwanted substances, according to breastcancer.org.

“I feel better than I have in a long time,” Rutz said. “I’m eating very healthy, and I feel like I’m learning something every day that might help me. I feel like God has put people in front of me or information in front of me almost on a daily basis, and I’m confident that he’s guiding this whole process.”

She’s eating a lot more vegetables, more organic food and very little meat, she said. She also takes nutritional supplements.

“What I’m doing is hard work, and I’m learning all the time, and I think it’s the road less traveled,” Rutz said.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Tracy Frank at (701) 241-5526

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