What Are Breast Calcifications?
Breast calcifications are calcium deposits that form in the breast tissue. These calcifications are common and typically benign. They are more common in women over the age of 50 and show up on a mammogram as white spots or flecks. The deposits are painless and too small to feel, so it is unlikely you will know you have them until it appears on a mammogram.
Although most breast calcifications are benign, there are some patterns of calcifications that may indicate breast cancer or precancerous changes in the breast tissue. Breast calcifications are categorized as microcalcifications and macrocalcifications.
Types of Breast Calcifications
- Macrocalcification. These are the most common calcifications found in the breast tissue. Macrocalcifications appear as large white spots or dashes scattered throughout the breasts. Usually, macrocalcifications are benign and do not require follow-up testing.
- Microcalcification. These may appear as small white spots randomly scattered, in a group, or dotted line of fine white specks. They tend to form tight clusters with irregular shapes. Typically, microcalcifications are benign, but they are more likely to indicate cancer than macrocalcifications. If microcalcifications appear on the mammogram, your healthcare provider may order more testing to rule out precancerous cells or cancer.
Breast calcifications cause no symptoms and are too small to feel during a breast exam. Routine mammograms usually detect the breast calcifications.
There is no exact cause for breast calcifications, but there are several potential reasons they may develop in the breast tissue. Potential causes include:
- Breast injury
- Breast cysts
- Fibroadenomas (benign breast lumps)
- Aging arteries in the breasts
- Breast infections
- Breast surgery
- Previous breast cancer treatment
- Mammary duct ectasia
- Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), which is a type of early-stage breast cancer that develops in the milk ducts
- Invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC), which is a more aggressive breast cancer that has spread from the milk ducts to breast tissue
Since breast calcifications are painless and too small to feel, they are typically diagnosed after a mammogram. If the mammogram results indicate the presence of microcalcifications, your doctor may recommend further testing. Macrocalcifications do not typically require any follow-up. Diagnostic tools for follow-up testing include:
- Diagnostic mammogram. This is a much more detailed mammogram that gives a magnified and multiple angled view of the calcifications. This helps the radiologist get a more in depth look at the shape and arrangement of the calcifications.
- Biopsy. This is a minimally invasive procedure that removes a part of the affected breast tissue to be analyzed in a lab. A biopsy is performed when the underlying cause of the calcifications needs to be determined.
Most breast calcifications do not require treatment. However, if the calcifications look suspicious, your doctor may recommend further testing. If the additional diagnostic tests indicate any abnormalities or potential for precancer or cancer, you will be referred to a breast disease specialist and additional treatment may be required. Treatment may include:
- Monitoring for any concerning changes or abnormalities
- Surgery to remove the affected breast tissue or entire breast
- Targeted hormone therapy
- Chemotherapy and/or radiation
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