A U.K. woman recently found out she had breast cancer in an unusual way: by flipping through her travel photos.
Bal Gill, a 41-year-old woman from Slough, had visited Edinburgh’s Camera Obscura & World of Illusions tourist attraction. While there, she took a photo of herself as seen through the museum’s thermal camera, according to a letter published on the Camera Obscura website.
When she flipped through pictures on her phone later, she noticed that her left breast was showing up as a hot spot.
She made an appointment with her doctor and was diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer.
“I have had two surgeries and have one to go to prevent it from spreading,” Gill wrote, according to the Camera Obscura website.
“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. I cannot tell you enough about how my visit to the Camera Obscura changed my life.”
Camera Obscura general manager Andrew Johnson wrote in a statement: “We were really moved when Bal contacted us to share her story as breast cancer is very close to home for me and a number of our team.
“It’s amazing that Bal noticed the difference in the image and crucially acted on it promptly. We wish her all the best with her recovery and hope to meet her and her family in the future.”
Thermal imaging is not a normal or approved means of breast cancer detection. In a statement issued in February, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned that thermography should not be used in place of mammography to detect or diagnose breast cancer.
“There is no valid scientific data to demonstrate that thermography devices, when used on their own or with another diagnostic test, are an effective screening tool for any medical condition including the early detection of breast cancer or other diseases and health conditions,” the agency wrote.
Health Canada issued a similar reminder in 2017, noting that “thermograms (which use thermal imaging) are not a substitute for mammograms used for routine monitoring and screening for breast cancer.”
While these devices are available in Canada, they are not licensed for cancer screening.
“Health Canada is not aware of any clinical evidence that thermography devices can be used effectively for the early detection of breast cancer. If women are relying solely on thermography results, there is a potential risk that cancer could go undetected,” the department wrote.