- In May, Bal Gill visited the Camera Obscura and World of Illusions museum in Edinburgh, Scotland, where she got souvenir images from a thermal camera.
- In the images, she noticed a heat patch over her breast, and after taking them to her doctor, she learned she had early-stage breast cancer, CNN reported.
- Though the thermal cameras did detect Gill’s breast cancer, they’re not a trusted way to detect breast cancer, even when they’re used in a medical setting.
- Mammograms are the best way to screen for and detect breast cancer.
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A 41-year-old woman got more than she bargained for when thermal cameras in a Scottish tourist attraction tipped her off that she may have breast cancer.
In May, Bal Gill visited the Camera Obscura and World of Illusions museum in Edinburgh, Scotland. When she was checking out souvenir images from a thermal camera at the attraction, she noticed a heat patch over her breast, CNN reported on Wednesday.
After doing some internet searches about what that heat patch could mean, Gill learned it could be related to breast cancer and took the images to her doctor. There, she was diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer.
“I just wanted to say thank you: Without that camera, I would never have known. I know it’s not the intention of the camera but for me, it really was a life-changing visit,” Gill told the Camera Obscura museum.
Gill said she’d had two surgeries to prevent the cancer from spreading and was getting ready for a third.
Though the thermal cameras did detect Gill’s breast cancer, they aren’t proven breast-cancer-detection devices – even when they’re used in a medical setting.
Thermal cameras aren’t a trusted device to detect breast cancer
According to the US Food and Drug Administration, thermography – or using infrared cameras to show areas of heat and blood flow in the body – is not an accurate way to diagnose cancer, because these devices have a high chance of delivering a false negative or false positive.
“Thermography devices are not sensitive or specific enough to be a trusted method to detect breast cancer,” Caroline Rubin, the vice president for clinical radiology at the Royal College of Radiologists, told CNN, adding that in Gill’s case, “the discovery was serendipitous.”
In February, the FDA warned that while homeopathic clinics and health spas have marketed these devices as proper breast-cancer-detection methods, they are not. The agency said that in some instances, these clinics had wrongfully asserted that their thermography methods could detect cancer sooner than other devices and had given patients incorrect information about their health.
It also said that this misinformation about thermography could make people choose the scientifically unproven method over a mammogram, the best known way to screen for cancer.
Though the FDA has cleared thermography for marketing as a health service, the agency clarified that it should be used only as a supplement to a mammogram and not in place of one.
Mammograms are the best way to screen for cancer
Mammograms are X-rays that examine the breast tissue to screen for breast cancer. Women generally start getting routine mammograms at age 40 and return every one or two years, according to the Mayo Clinic. People with a higher risk of developing breast cancer may be advised to start getting mammograms earlier.
A November 2018 study found that, compared with people who weren’t regularly getting mammograms, those who got regular ones had a 47% lower risk of dying from breast cancer within 20 years of their diagnosis, the time frame when most breast-cancer deaths occur after a diagnosis.
Citing data from the National Cancer Institute, the American College of Radiology said breast-cancer deaths in women in the United States had decreased by 43% since regular mammograms became popular in the 1980s.
It’s not recommended that men get regular mammograms, even though they can also develop breast cancer; the breast-cancer death rate among men has remained the same since the 1980s, the ACR said.
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