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What is Breast Calcification?

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  • Written By: Marlene Garcia
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 26 August 2016
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Breast calcification refers to calcium deposits in breast tissue that are revealed through routine mammogram examinations. These deposits can be classified as either microcalcification or macrocalcification. Although breast calcification is commonly benign, certain deposits could lead to a precancerous condition or breast cancer if not monitored properly. Calcium deposits can develop for several reasons, including breast implantation, previous exposure to radiation or calcium clogging a milk duct, and they often occur in postmenopausal women who are more than 50 years old.

Macrocalcification generally appears as large, white masses on a mammogram. These areas cannot be felt during routine breast examinations by the woman or her doctor. This type of breast calcification is almost always benign and usually requires no treatment or further testing except annual mammograms as part of a general physical.

Microcalcification is also routinely benign but it is a form of breast calcification that requires monitoring and possible treatment. It appears on a mammogram as tiny, white dots, with some as small as a grain of sand. If microcalcification appears in the milk ducts, it is considered a precursor to breast cancer. If left untreated, microcalcification could spread and develop into breast cancer.

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Women who have been diagnosed with microcalcification might need more frequent mammograms to assess the potential spread of the deposits. Some physicians might also order a biopsy of the area or magnetic resonance imagining (MRI) to gather more information about the situation. MRIs often pinpoint conditions that are not visible on traditional X-rays.

Breast calcification can be caused by several different factors. Some women who develop cysts in breast tissue later show calcium deposits. An injury to the breast can also cause the condition to occur, as can radiation for a previous bout with breast cancer. Skin or blood vessel calcification that spreads to the breast can also lead to breast calcification. Other causes include fibroadenoma, which is a non-cancerous lump found on the breast during a woman’s productive years; mammary duct ectasia, a build-up of fluid that clogs the nipple of typically older women; or mastitis, an inflammation of the breast that is common to women in the first few months of breastfeeding.

Radiologists who find breast calcification on a mammogram commonly rank the findings according to the Breast Imaging Reporting and Data System. This numerical system analyzes the shape, size and other characteristics of the deposits, and the results are rated on a scale from zero to five. A zero ranking typically requires another examination of the breast, and a five means that there is a high chance of breast cancer.

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bluedolphin
Post 3

@fBoyle-- My sister's breast cancer was actually diagnosed that way. The mammogram showed the calcification first, so there is probably truth in that. If calcification doesn't lead to breast cancer and just accompanies it, and if it helps with diagnosis, then it's actually a good thing. Although I'm not sure if a woman can tell if she has calcification without a mammogram.

I guess more research still needs to be done about this. Cancer is a difficult illness to understand. There can be different causes, it can develop in different ways. The only way to deal with it is to check our breasts regularly and also get mammograms regularly after menopause as a preventative measure. Especially women with breast cancer in their family need to be especially careful and get check ups even earlier.

fBoyle
Post 2

@literally45-- Actually, I don't think that calcification is a precursor in the sense that it leads to cancer. I think what actually happens is that calcification becomes more likely around cancerous cells. In fact, many doctors take calcification as a sign of cancer for this reason. So in this sense, it's more like a marker for cancer during mammograms.

It can also lead to early diagnosis because some types of cancerous tissue can be missed in mammograms if a woman has irregular tissue type. Calcification in this situation may allow diagnosis to take place much earlier than it would otherwise.

There is no rule that women with a calcium deposit in their breast have or will have cancer. But it's certainly something to pay attention to and look into.

literally45
Post 1

I had no idea that breast calcification is a precursor to cancer. I thought that cancer is only due to tumorous growths and sometimes fibroadenomas that later turn cancerous.

I have no idea if I have breast calcification. I last had a mammogram two years ago. I will have one soon though. I know that women after fifty need to get them regularly.

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