Gaea Powell on Safer Breast Cancer Screening
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” 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.
Thermography—A Physiological Test to Help You Monitor Your Breast Health
Gaea Powell is a board-certified thermographer 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.
She lost her own mother to the disease 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 thermography—first as a patient, and then as a practitioner.
Thermographic breast screening is brilliantly simple and completely harmless. It’s as safe as taking a photograph of yourself. It measures the radiation of infrared heat from your body and translates this information into anatomical images. Thermography uses no mechanical pressure or ionizing radiation, and can detect signs of breast cancer approximately 8-10 years earlier than either mammography or a physical exam.
“[O]nce my mom passed away, my doctor was trying to basically scare me, letting me know I was at high risk and needed to have mammograms early. But I was basically determined to help myself prevent breast cancer in the first place,” Gaea says.
“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 the 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 and so I could help myself prevent disease in the first place.”
From a Career in Film, to Being a Champion for Women’s Health...
Gaea was fortunate enough to locate a doctor in her local area who provided thermography screening. As of 1995, she began having annual imaging done, 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. She ended up becoming a board-certified thermographer four years ago, after she moved into an area where no one was offering thermography.
“I couldn’t believe it, but most women haven’t even heard the technology. It was like an epiphany in my life. I changed careers. I got trained. I’ve done so much research on it,” 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 is not restricted by breast density, implants, or reconstruction,” she says.
What happened is I started imaging women and they started sharing these incredibly disturbing stories about their experiences with the more traditional option... As I continued down this path, I started taking my case studies of thermograms of women who were alerted to problems at an early stage, so they could then be empowered with that information, take it back to their health care provider that they partner with, and help them lower their risk. If their thermogram is indicating a high risk, it gives them an opportunity to do something about it.
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.”
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 noticed. 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 Mammogram
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 web site.
“[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 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... 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 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 that 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, such as a biopsy.
“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 me... Maybe I hit my breast while I was developing. Everyone’s unique.”
One of the main things your thermographist 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’ 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 can not be read by other physicians due to different machines. Gaea has started to address this by creating an elegant interactive software that creates gray scale pictures that are far easier to understand. This system also allows any doctor, anywhere in the world, to engage others with the same software, so they can all 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 instead of constantly trying to squash it.”
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 massage therapists may also be certified in it.
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 [cancer] is,” Gaea says. “I was there with my mother when she got 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’re fighting for your life, and you’re fearing for your life, and now you have to make all 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 thermographer board-certified through a not-for-profit thermography organization, such as the International Academy of Clinical Thermology (IACT). The reason for this is because non-profit schools give their practitioners greater options to do their own research with respects to equipment and software, which can make a big difference. Some are more sensitive than others, thereby offering higher quality images, and a for-profit school will typically require their students to purchase a specific equipment package from them, which may or may not be the best.
“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 those images, and if they can give you a guarantee that you can speak to the evaluating doctor.”
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.