Gaea Powell on Safer Breast Cancer Screening
July 08, 2012
By Dr. Mercola
Breast cancer is the leading cause of death among American women between the age of 40-55, and the high prevalence has spawned a very lucrative industry; from mammography and other dangerous or invasive testing methods, to “preventive” double mastectomies and cancer drugs.
Much effort is placed on trying to detect cancer at an earlier stage. Unfortunately, the conventional recommendation to get regular mammograms has shown to be more harmful than helpful, as research shows ten times as many women are harmed in some way compared to those whose lives are spared by annual mammograms.
Breast Thermography - A Physiological Test to Help You Monitor Your Breast Health
Gaea Powell is a Board Certified Medical Thermographer and film maker with a passion for educating women about breast cancer screening and prevention. She previously served as Chief of Staff for Arnold Schwarzenegger prior to him becoming governor of California, and she also spent a number of years working in the film industry.
Gaea lost her mother to breast cancer in 1991. Her mother was only 49. Losing her mother, and being told she was now at high risk of getting breast cancer herself, led her to Breast Thermography—first as a patient, and then as a practitioner.
Thermographic breast screening is brilliantly simple and completely harmless. It’s as safe as having your photograph taken. It measures the infrared heat emitted by your body and translates this information into thermal images. Thermography does not require mechanical compression or ionizing radiation, and can detect signs of physiological changes due to inflammation and/or increased tumor related blood flow approximately 8-10 years before mammography or a physical exam can detect a mass.
“[O]nce my mom passed away, my doctor was basically trying to scare me to death, letting me know I was at high risk and needed to have mammograms early,but I was determined to help myself prevent breast cancer in the first place,” says Gaea.
“I did a lot of research at that time... almost 20 years ago. What I realized is that a mammogram would just let me know I already had cancer. I was also concerned about the repeated radiation year after year, and then the compression [of the breast tissue]...
Luckily, in 1995, I discovered thermography.
Thermography is a physiological test, so it allows you to look for physiological changes at an early stage. As we know, when you go to the doctor’s office, the first thing they want you to do is be weighed, have your blood pressure taken and have your temperature taken. Those are physiological tests that can be monitored for stability over time. It’s the same type of process. Every single person has their own unique thermal vascular roadmap, and thermography allows us to watch that roadmap over time.
That was just a much better path for me. I wanted to be able to be empowered and be alerted to physiological changes, so I could try to make changes in an effort to help myself prevent disease,” Gaea explains.
From a Career in Film, to being a Champion for Women's Health...
In 1995, Gaea was fortunate to locate a doctor in her local area who provided thermography screening. She began having annual Thermograms, just like others would have their annual mammograms. Each time, her doctor would review the results and recommend dietary changes or stress management, for example, to address any troublesome changes that were noticed.
After utilizing thermography for 17 years, she ended up becoming a Board Certified Thermographer four years ago, after she moved to the central coast of California where thermography was rarely utilized. She knew firsthand how empowering her annual Thermograms had been to her and she wanted to make certain other women had access to thermography.
"I couldn't believe it, most women haven't even heard of the technology. It was like an epiphany in my life. I changed careers. I got trained, did extensive research and became a specialist in medical thermography," she says.
She began offering thermography in the San Luis, Obispo area.
"I wasn't anti-mammography or pro anything else. I just wanted women to be informed that they had another option, which is available to women of all ages, and not restricted by breast density, implants, or reconstruction.
Once I began imaging women, they started sharing these incredibly disturbing stories about their experiences with the more traditional option...Their stories were alarmingly common and similar.
I knew starting with a physiological screening like thermography was a much wiser option, and just made good sense. I was determined to educate women and doctors regarding its proven benefits.
As I continued down this path, I began sharing my Thermogram comparative case studies with doctors, who now utilize the technology. These case studies clearly prove that women who were alerted to physiological risks at an early stage could lower their risk, some within just a few months, after they were given an opportunity to take action by partnering with a progressive doctor and utilizing preventative strategies.
I also have Thermogram case studies indicating the highest risk of cancer being present, confirmed by MRI then biopsy. These patient's mammograms failed to detect their cancers year after year.
The culture that we've created is, basically cross your fingers and hope your mammogram doesn't tell you that you already have cancer. To me, that's insane." says Gaea
Furthermore, it's important to realize that a negative mammogram cannot be equated with a clean bill of health. All a negative mammogram means is that IF you do have cancer, it hasn't grown large enough yet to be detected. Making matters worse, each dose of ionizing radiation from the mammogram in and of itself raises your risk of getting breast cancer!
How the Density of Your Breast Impacts Effectiveness of Mammograms
Another important weakness of mammography that needs to be taken into account is the fact that it's very challenging for a mammogram to get a clear reading on denser breast tissue. So it's really crucial to know the density of your breasts.
Women with denser breasts tend to be younger, healthier women, which means healthier women are actually at an increased risk of getting a false result—either a false positive or false negative. As explained on AreYouDense.orgi , dense breast tissue is comprised of more connective tissue than fat, which appears white on a mammogram, just like cancer. Therefore, tumors can easily hide behind the dense tissue, evading detection despite regular screenings. For more information about breast density, and how you can improve your chances of early detection of cancer if you have denser breasts, please check out their website.
“[About] 40 to 50 percent of women have dense breasts,” Gaea says. “They really need to know that they should be utilizing an adjunctive imaging option to mammography. To me, it just makes sense that all women should start with a Thermogram, a physiological test first, which you can utilize in your 20s. If you’re at a low risk, maybe have a Thermogram every three years or so. But if you have family history or you already have fibrosis, sore breasts, or other symptoms... [such as] a hormonal imbalance... you can come more often.
My whole goal in doing this is to get women to engage early; don’t have a wait and see attitude. Inflammation leads to disease, so why wouldn’t we want to know about that inflammation years before structural changes occur? Most of the time, with a mammogram, ultrasound, or MRI, the cancer has been growing there for many, many years.”
Again, the reason why thermography is so effective as a preventive tool is because it can detect the potential for cancer, and can detect already formed cancers at a far earlier stage than a mammogram. Essentially, it detects areas of high inflammation, which can be viewed as a “hot-spot” with cancerous potential.
“Obviously, inflammation is going to cause heat, so we’re looking for symmetry and stability overtime [in the images],” Gaea explains. “In layman’s terms, if one of your breasts starts to develop a fever, it’s going to let us know at a very early stage, so that we can hopefully do something about it; work with a healthcare practitioner that respects your values, learns about who you are, and helps educate you on what you can do to change your path and eliminate inflammation. Being that inflammation leads to all disease, we want to catch it early.
The human body is absolutely amazing. If you break a bone, it can heal itself... If you are alerted to a possible “fever” in a specific region of your body – but we’re talking about breasts today – you can actually do something about it and help your body heal via vitamin D, which is so important, or lymphatic massage, or drainage, depending on your specific issue.
What’s really great about Thermograms is that they actually speak for themselves... [Women] can see their own Thermogram, and they can tell if one of their breasts looks a lot different than the other... But even if it’s an overall inflamed, very prominent thermal vascular pattern, they can work with their doctor, and I’ve seen results in three to five months, where [the inflammation] is eliminated...”
What Thermography Can and Cannot Tell You
As mentioned earlier, thermography can indicate the presence of potential cancer nearly 10 years before it would ever show up on a mammogram. However, it’s important to understand that thermography does not diagnose cancer. It allows you to track your unique temperature data over time, and changes in temperature and symmetry can alert you that changes are taking place, for better or worse.
Higher temperature readings indicate higher levels of inflammation, which can lead to cancer. So, if your Thermogram shows areas of high inflammation, it doesn’t mean you have cancer, but it lets you know you need to address that inflammation to avoid deterioration, and in some cases that the area needs further evaluation.
“I have a spot in my breast, which I have been able to watch all these years that is about three degrees higher than it should be compared to the other side,” Gaea says, “but it hasn’t changed. So that’s just me... Maybe I injured my breast while I was developing. Everyone’s unique.”
One of the main things your evaluating doctor will look for is stability and symmetry over time, which is why Gaea recommends getting Thermograms at regular intervals. That way, you’re collecting data that can be analyzed and evaluated over the years.
Gaea is pushing to get thermography recognized and used in adjunct to other screening methods, and to have it be as universally transparent as some of the other modalities. For example, if you were to have a mammogram, an ultrasound, or an MRI, you can then send it to another location—say another doctor or specialist—and it can be evaluated. She’s hoping thermographic images will at some point be accepted and used in the same way. At present, most doctors’ are misinformed and their familiarity with thermography is poor, so they automatically dismiss it.
One of the problems with the traditional thermography report is that it is not standardized and the infrared images cannot be read by other physicians due to different software. Gaea has started to address this by creating an elegant interactive report that provides both the rainbow and gray scale thermal images for easier understanding. This system also allows any doctor with the software, anywhere in the world to engage the temperature data and evaluation tools, so they can interact with the uploaded image.
“It’s an interactive approach,” she explains. “Because I believe it’s very important to be open and transparent, so that anyone can give a second opinion, and the doctors can work together and help evolve the technology.”
Strategies that Can Help Reduce Breast Inflammation
If your thermographic image indicates that you have inflammation in an area of your breasts, what can you do about it? Ideally, you'll want to work with an experienced integrative practitioner who can guide you and make recommendations for the most appropriate lifestyle changes, depending on your situation. For example, the following strategies may be helpful for clearing inflammation. Many, if not most of the strategies I list at the end of this article will also help reduce chronic inflammation throughout your body:
- Balancing your hormone levels
- Optimizing your vitamin D levels
- Lymphatic drainage
- Lymphatic massage
While you can do lymphatic massage on yourself, if you have a high-risk Thermogram, you’d be wise to see a therapist trained in lymphatic drainage. You can locate trained therapists through any of the lymphedema organizations, such as The National Lymphedema Networkii, and certified massage therapists.
Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure...
While mammography can only tell you that cancer is already present, thermography can offer you up to a decade’s-worth of time to take control of and address your health. This can be profoundly empowering, as opposed to getting a cancer diagnosis when it’s already too late to expect a few lifestyle changes to fully address your situation...
“I know how fear-based the [cancer] industry is,” Gaea says. “I was there with my mother when she was diagnosed… They’re expecting women to make decisions when they’re basically being chased by a lion. You’re in the most incredibly stressful situation than you’ve ever had in your life. Most likely because you are fighting for your life, fearing for your life, and now you are being pressured to make all of these life-altering decisions.
Well ladies, nobody wakes up with those decisions but you. Not your doctor. Not your oncologist, radiologist, or surgeon. It’s about taking a breath and not being forced into anything you’re not comfortable with—be it having a mammogram, a Thermogram, or anything that you’re not comfortable with.”
How to Find a Thermographer
Gaea recommends locating a Board Certified Thermographer through a not-for-profit thermography organization, such as the International Academy of Clinical Thermology (IACT). Non-profit schools do not endorse specific IR cameras, software or require their students to utilize exclusive evaluation services. This allows thermographers the opportunity to do their own research in regard to equipment and software, and to interview and select their evaluation doctors, which is important.
IR camera technology is constantly evolving and high resolution cameras are recommended, thereby offering higher quality images for easier evaluation. For-profit schools may require their students purchase a specific equipment package from them, which can be limiting and may or may not be the latest technology available.
“It’s also very important to be able to pick up the phone if you have a serious problem, and talk to the doctor that actually evaluated your Thermogram,” Gaea says. “Try to find out who’s actually evaluating your images so that you can speak to the evaluating doctor directly if needed.”
7 Lifestyle Strategies to Reduce Your Risk of Breast Cancer
- Radically reduce your sugar/fructose intake. Normalizing your insulin levels by avoiding sugar and fructose is one of the most powerful physical actions you can take to lower your risk of cancer. Unfortunately, very few oncologists appreciate or apply this knowledge today. The Cancer Centers of America is one of the few exceptions, where strict dietary measures are included in their cancer treatment program. Fructose is especially dangerous, as research shows it actually speeds up cancer growth.
- Optimize your vitamin D level. Ideally it should be over 50 ng/ml, but levels from 70-100 ng/ml will radically reduce your cancer risk. Safe sun exposure is the most effective way to increase your levels, followed by safe tanning beds and then oral vitamin D3 supplementation as a last resort if no other option is available.
- Maintain a healthy body weight. This will come naturally when you begin eating right for your nutritional type and exercising using high-intensity burst-type activities, which are part of my Peak Fitness program. It's important to lose excess weight because estrogen is produced in fat tissue.
- Get plenty of high quality animal-based omega-3 fats, such as those from krill oil. Omega-3 deficiency is a common underlying factor for cancer.
- Avoid drinking alcohol, or limit your drinks to one a day for women.
- Watch out for excessive iron levels. This is actually very common once women stop menstruating. The extra iron actually works as a powerful oxidant, increasing free radicals and raising your risk of cancer. So if you are a post-menopausal woman or have breast cancer you will certainly want to have your Ferritin level drawn. Ferritin is the iron transport protein and should not be above 80. If it is elevated you can simply donate your blood to reduce it.
- Breastfeed exclusively for up to six months. Research shows this will reduce your breast cancer risk.