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UPDATE: A Better Breast Cancer Detector?

Fountain Valley's OC Breast Wellness center promotes a new device, but the manufacturer says it's not meant to be used for diagnosis at this time.

By Charles Hough, chiropractor

A comfortable, accurate, no-squishing breast exam? Sounds like a contradiction in terms, doesn’t it? But what if there really were a precise, painless exam that could detect breast cancer earlier than ever, that was safe and radiation-free—and that gave test results instantly, rather than making you wait in suspense for days on end?

Guess what? That exam now exists. It’s called Digital Palpation Imaging and it is even more sensitive and accurate than the human touch—which itself has proved to play a critical role in cancer screenings. Digital Palpation Imaging uses a portable hand-held tactile sensing device that can detect lesions in the breast as small as 5 mm.

Editor's Note: The manufacturer of this device, SureTouch, says it isn't meant for diagnostic use at this time. In addition, the author of this commentary also promotes breast thermography, a method the FDA warns is ineffective as a substitute for mammograms. To read more about the author's questionable claims for thermography, click here.

Renowned breast surgeon Dr. Cary Kaufman of Bellingham Regional Breast Center in Washington says it “provides consistency, accuracy, documentation, and predictability, taking it to the next threshold in the field of breast clinical exams.”

So why am I betting you’ve never heard of it? Why is my center, OC Breast Wellness, one of only eight locations in the United States to provide this potentially life-saving service today?

This is one of the great mysteries of modern medicine: the reluctance to accept new wisdom and adopt new technologies that can improve, and even save, people’s lives.

The most successful cancer screening technology ever developed was the Pap smear. First developed by Dr. George N. Papanicolaou in 1928, the pap smear didn’t become a mainstream test until 20 years later. Yet today it’s widely acknowledged that pap smears have reduced cervical cancer deaths by a whopping 70 percent. So what took so long?

Author and physician Siddhartha Mukherjee, in his book The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, notes that even after decades of research on lung cancer—during which time researchers managed to overcome the overwhelming skepticism of the public and doctors that cigarette smoking contributed to it—“It remains an astonishing, disturbing fact that in America…one of the most potent and common carcinogens known to humans can be freely bought and sold at every corner store for a few dollars.”

What does it take to get through to people?

Today, breast cancer is the leading cause of death in women in their 40s. American women have a 1 in 8 lifetime risk of acquiring this dreaded disease. The current medical model for detecting breast cancer in women, mammography (which exposes women to 20 times as much radiation as a chest x-ray), has not been successful at changing these dire statistics in 40 years. Yet it’s still the No. 1 recommended screening tool.

We see women in my office every day who are—understandably—scared to death of breast cancer. We give them information on ways to prevent cancer through diet, vitamins, exercise and lifestyle choices. Our nurses perform breast exams and screenings. Why on earth would we want to wait 20 years before helping save their lives?

Digital palpation imaging is here today and I’m using it for the benefit of my patients. I hope others will join me.

Jay Lichman, M.D. October 08, 2012 at 08:43 PM
The Patch does its readers a great disservice by publishing deceptive medical advertising as if it is reliable "news". In the past, Charles Hough has advertised breast thermography as a substitute for mammography and other breast imaging and made the completely unsupportable claim that it can "detect breast cancer ten years earlier than mammography". In fact, thermography is ineffective for breast cancer screening and the FDA has issued cease and desist orders to manufacturers and practitioners who claim that it is. Digital palpaation imaging is also a procedure of completely unproven value in early breast cancer detection. I believe that "The Patch" should at least do some minimal investigation before it publishes profit motivated self-promotion that may cause harm to patients. Jay Lichman, M.D.
Lindsey Hanson October 08, 2012 at 09:00 PM
The Patch did not write this. It's an opinion piece. Someone could write in and say all elephants fly.
randy October 08, 2012 at 09:01 PM
Thanks for speaking out, doc. I'm tired of profit seekers, really. It helps to balance the truth so American patients and their families need to know.
fact checker October 08, 2012 at 09:51 PM
The Patch needs to rethink its policies. This kind of advertisement disguised as news could potentially cost lives. This is not the only time I have been disgusted with these kinds of "articles." But it is definitely the first that has a potentially life threatening result. Thank you Dr. Lichman for providing some clarification and warning.
Ed October 08, 2012 at 10:04 PM
Jay, thanks. The article sounds like an advertisement. The National Provider Enumeration system shows one "Charles Hough" in Orange County and he's a chiropractor: https://npiregistry.cms.hhs.gov/NPPESRegistry/DisplayProviderDetails.do?searchNpi=&city=&firstName=charles&orgName=&searchType=ind&state=&npi=1104919661&orgDba=&lastName=hough&zip= The Medical Board of California doesn't have any Charles Hough listed either (MD or DO). http://www2.mbc.ca.gov/LicenseLookupSystem/PhysicianSurgeon/Search.aspx
Roy Rivenburg October 09, 2012 at 03:23 PM
Thank you. A note and link to the FDA warning has been added and we'll be running a longer story on the FDA opinion.
Camille Sellitto October 09, 2012 at 10:11 PM
Why is it that every time there is a alternative (safe) method to a harmful medical procedure it is shot down by certain Doctors in the medical community? Dr. Lichman, you mention the cease and desist from the FDA for thermography but NOT for digital palpation and say that it is "completely unproven value" in early breast detection. I will say this, I had this SAFE, and COMFORTABLE procedure done and I will continue to have this procedure done over the invasive, very uncomfortable (in more ways than one), and harmful mammogram! And how many times have women had mammograms and cancer has been misdiagnosed or detected too late?! I'm also wondering how your wife, sister, Mother or even your daughter(s) may feel about having their breasts squished between a machine while the staff leave the room to avoid the harmful damaging rays? Until this procedure is proven to be "unsafe" and/or "unreliable" I will continue to stay clear of mammograms thank you!
MFriedrich October 09, 2012 at 10:35 PM
Camille, You said "Why is it that every time there is a alternative (safe) method to a harmful medical procedure it is shot down by certain Doctors in the medical community?" Because public published criticism is precisely how medical science advances. Good, valid, tested ideas advance. Poor, invalid and unsubstantiated ideas are thrown on the scrap heap of history, alongside other ineffective medical practices like blood letting, clysters, children's soothing syrups, curative mercury, calming coughs with heroin, lobotomies and using electric shock to cure impotence. This is why some very uncomfortable, but highly effective, medical treatments persist today. Believe me, I'm all about comfort for the ladies. But we love you guys too much, so please forego the discomfort for now with these tests, so that you can all stick around with us a long time. We'll do the same during our P-SA screening exams. Deal? OK. Thanks. Love, Everybody
Roy Rivenburg October 09, 2012 at 11:11 PM
He is indeed a chiropractor, not an M.D., and the article has been changed to reflect that.
Marilyn P. October 09, 2012 at 11:12 PM
Camille, I'm glad you brought this up. I'm not saying that I know anything about this procedure - I don't - but I do know that the FDA is not necessarily looking out for the public's best interests when it comes to approving medications and medical procedures. The two points in this article citing the connection between smoking and lung cancer and the connection between Pap smears and detecting cervical cancer are two valid examples. I agree with mfriedrich that good valid testing is important, but often alternative methods and medications are shot down quickly when there is a financial price to be paid by those making money from existing practices. This is why some very uncomfortable and highly expensive medical treatments persist today. Again, I am not necessarily a proponent of this procedure, simply because I don't know enough about it to make a sound judgement. But I am highly in favor of the FDA being much more open to alternative treatments, even if those treatments won't put millions of dollars into their coffers. But I don't think that will happen any time soon.
fact checker October 10, 2012 at 12:54 AM
As a person whose life was saved by a mammogram I am happy I used a proven diagnostic tool rather than one that has no proven value. I hope others do not follow your lead to stay clear of mammograms.
Karin Bradshaw October 10, 2012 at 05:54 AM
I am a healthy 51 year old woman and had my first mammogram and biopsy when I was 18years old due to a lump that I palpated. I was not told that dense lumpy tissue was normal especially for younger women. My second biopsy was when I was pregnant with my second son. I cannot even count the number of mammograms, ultrasounds, and needle aspirations I have received in the name of "standard of care.". Problem with mammogram is it does not differentiate between tissue density and elasticity thus must be subjectively interpreted. The last time I went to my breast appointment I left bruised and deformed from at least 5 needle aspirations that sucked close to 20cc of fluid out of my breasts and to add insult to injury I received a $650 bill. So to you gentlemen with all the advice, sorry for being so graphic but please don't tell me to " forego the discomfort." All I can say is when I heard about the digital palpation imagining I was thrilled. It completely made sense to me and for the first time ever I left my examination comfortable and with "normal" results. I cannot wait to share this with other women whose story is similar or even worse than mine. I am so grateful for brilliant scientists who are a lot smarter than you and I and are willing to think out of the very narrow box we call Healthcare.
Ed Jay October 10, 2012 at 05:55 AM
Dr. Lichman: I've been a thermologist for more than 30 years. I am a true believer, having seen thermography's efficacy demonstrated on hundreds of patients. That said, your claim that thermography is not a substitute for mammography is correct. Thermography provides an indication of the physiological function of the breast while mammography images the anatomical characteristics off the breast tissue. What is ignored by detractors of thermography, especially defenders of mammography, is that functional changes in the breast occur at the very onset of a malignancy, years before the tumor is detectable with mammography, ultrasound, palpation, or MRI. Some functional changes such as neo-angiogenesis and other vascular changes supporting the tumor are clearly visible using thermography when the tumor is less than a millimeter in diameter. Smaller than a grain of rice. The smallest tumors discovered with the best imaging equipment is about 5 millimeters. It takes years from the time the tumor is discovered with thermography for the tumor to develop to the minimum size detectable with mammography. It is inarguably correct to claim that thermography detects signs consistent with development of a new, sub-millimeter tumor, approximately seven- to ten-years before that tumor is detectable using mammography, or even MRI. The FDA approved breast thermography for assessing risk for development of breast cancer in 1982. It has improved with technology. Ed Jay
Roy Rivenburg October 18, 2012 at 04:29 PM
As promised, here's a follow-up story on OC Breast Wellness, which makes claims the FDA calls misleading and unfounded. http://fountainvalley.patch.com/articles/local-breast-screening-clinic-makes-false-claims-fda-says
Roy Rivenburg October 18, 2012 at 04:31 PM
Ed Jay, the FDA says there is no scientific evidence to support claims thermography can detect tumors years sooner than a mammogram. http://fountainvalley.patch.com/articles/local-breast-screening-clinic-makes-false-claims-fda-says

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