Calcifications: Are They Cause for Concern?

Health & Medical Blog

According to the American Cancer Society, current statistics show that one in eight women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point within her lifetime. With such a sobering statistic, getting a call back from a radiologist after undergoing your routine mammogram is enough to send your anxiety level soaring. If additional views confirm the presence of an abnormal finding, the recommendation of a biopsy procedure can have your mind reeling with panicked questions. Calcifications are one of the common abnormal findings that may warrant such testing, but they are usually benign. Understanding your calcification diagnosis will help to put your mind at ease enough to get through your biopsy procedure and endure a short-lived period of dread as you await the results.

What Are Calcifications?

Calcifications are deposits of calcium that form within breast tissue. Despite this definition, calcifications are not caused by dietary calcium intake, so do not abandon your calcium supplement or give up your love of cheese. Calcifications are instead caused by such factors as these:

  • Age-related breast changes
  • Previous physical trauma to the breast
  • Mastitis, which is an infection in the breast tissue
  • Cysts in the breast
  • Mammary duct ectasia, a condition in which a mammary duct becomes clogged with fluid accumulation

You cannot feel calcifications, and women only learn of their presence after undergoing a routine mammogram. Calcifications appear as white spots or specks on the mammography images. Calcifications are a common finding, revealed in roughly half of all women over the age of 50. Although the percentage is considerably lower, younger women also present with calcifications at a rate of one in ten.

Two Types of Calcifications

There are two presentations of calcifications. Identifying the type of calcification seen on a mammogram determines when follow-up diagnostic testing is recommended.

Macrocalcifications appear as white spots and are dispersed randomly throughout the breast tissue. Most macrocalcifications are well defined on a mammography image, and they rarely require a biopsy procedure to confirm the diagnosis. They are not associated with cancer.

Microcalcifications appear as white specks, and they can present alone or in groups, called clusters. These clusters indicate acceleration in cellular activity, which requires them to absorb more calcium from your body. While the majority of microcalcifications prove to be benign, some instances can be indicative of a precancerous condition or early breast cancer.

When Is a Biopsy Recommended?

If the presenting pattern or grouping of microcalcification raises the radiologist's suspicions, a biopsy procedure is the only definitive method for ruling out cancer. A biopsy may also be recommended if this was your first mammogram and microcalcifications were identified. This is because there are no previous images to which the radiologist can compare the calcifications. While the idea of having to undergo a biopsy procedure is frightening to most women, the outcome usually puts their ultimate fears to rest fairly quickly. Biopsies are typically performed within days, and the pathology results are usually available within seven days after the procedure.

Some Encouraging Numbers

Remember that recommendations for additional mammography views, additional imaging tests or biopsy procedures do not mean that you have cancer. Keeping this in mind is crucial in reducing your stress level. When it comes to all abnormal findings on mammograms, including calcifications, 80 percent of the follow-up biopsies performed come back negative for breast cancer. Undergoing a recommended biopsy procedure is imperative, however, for a confirmed diagnosis and for your own ultimate peace of mind.

For more information or to schedule a mammogram, contact an establishment like Radiology Affiliates Imaging.


27 August 2015

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