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Health Canada issues warning against breast-cancer test. But what took so long?

Thermographic camera

Ewa Seniczak- scibior/Getty Images/Hemera

Have you seen advertisements for medical clinics offering thermography, described as a safe and effective way to detect breast cancer before it develops? Have you shelled out cold, hard cash to one of the many clinics across Canada that offer the screening?

If so, you should know that thermography is not licensed or approved to screen for breast cancer in Canada and that no credible scientific evidence backs up its use.

Health Canada issued a warning about thermography today following an investigation by the CBC. Thermography machines take images using heat-sensitive infrared cameras. Proponents say that breast thermography can detect abnormalities or possible changes in the breasts long before the development of cancer.

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Those claims, according to Health Canada and a major breast-cancer advocacy group, the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, are simply false.

"It's important to give women all the facts so they can recognize that thermography is not an effective alternative to screening mammograms," Sandra Palmaro, CEO for the Ontario region of the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, said in a news release.

The CBC investigation found that dozens of for-profit medical clinics across Canada are offering thermography screenings for breast cancer. The websites for these clinics claim that it is one of the safest and most effective ways at detecting and predicting development of the cancer.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administation issued a warning more than a year ago that thermography has not been proven to be effective at detecting breast cancer, and sent letters to health centres telling them to stop making claims about its benefits.

So why did it take an investigation by a media outlet before Health Canada issued a warning in this country?

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About the Author

Carly Weeks has been a journalist with The Globe and Mail since 2007.  She has reported on everything from federal politics to the high levels of sodium in the Canadian diet. More

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