Thermal imaging is an emerging method for early detection of female breast tumor. The main challenge for thermal imaging used in breast clinics lies in how to detect or locate the tumor and obtain its related parameters. The purpose of this study is to apply an improved method which combined a genetic algorithm with finite element thermal analysis to determine the breast tumor and its parameters, such as the size, location, metabolic heat generation and blood perfusion rate. A finite element model for breast embedded a tumor was used to investigate the temperature distribution, and then the influences of tumor metabolic heat generation, tumor location and tumor size on the temperature were studied by use of an improved genetic algorithm. The results show that thermal imaging is a potential and effective detection tool for early breast tumor, and thermal simulation may be helpful for the explanation of breast thermograms.© (2010) COPYRIGHT SPIE--The International Society for Optical Engineering. Downloading of the abstract is permitted for personal use only.