By Dr. Kathleen Ruddy
If you have recently had a mammogram and were told that you have one or more breast tissue calcifications, you are probably wondering what this means. The good news is that breast tissue calcifications are quite common and in many cases they are determined to be benign. The next step will depend on a variety of factors, which will be determined by your doctor. What you can do to make the process of diagnosis, and potential treatment, less stressful is to understand the different types of breast tissue calcifications and the potential treatment for them. You should also remember that this is a very common finding in women over the age of 50 and is not a cause for immediate alarm.
What is Breast Tissue Calcification?
Calcification is the built up of calcium and salts in soft tissue. Breast calcifications are small deposits of calcium that form within the breast tissue. Breast calcifications are divided into two categories: microcalcifications and macrocalcifications. Additionally, they are a common finding on routine mammograms. Over half of women over age 50 are found to have breast macrocalcifications during a routine mammogram. One in ten women under age 50 are found to have them. Microcalcifications can sometimes indicate the presence of precancerous or early cancerous cells, depending on the appearance and location within the breast. Microcalcifications are less common, and the difference can be distinguished in mammogram results.
How do You Know if You Have Benign Breast Tissue Calcifications?
Breast tissue calcification deposits are typically too small to be felt during a routine breast exam and are most commonly found during mammograms. They appear as small, white flakes or larger dots on the mammogram results. Appearance and placement of the deposits is one way doctors determine what kind of calcium deposits are present and if further treatment is indicated. The two different types are known to present in specific ways, with the most common type being macrocalcifications. Since they do not cause symptoms, such as pain or tenderness, breast tissue calcifications are almost always first detected during routine mammograms.
DID YOU KNOW?
Did you know that only about 20 percent of microcalcification deposits are indicative of breast cancer? Additionally, the calcium deposits are not cancer themselves, but can indicate problematic cells in the surrounding tissue. Minor injuries that cause bruising can also be a causative factor of breast calcifications. This happens when the cells in that area die and harden due to the trauma. These types of calcifications are classified as macrocalcifications.
What Happens if Your Doctor Suspects That You Have Benign Breast Tissue Calcifications?
If you have recently had a mammogram and your doctor has found breast tissue calcification deposits, the next step is to determine what type of calcium deposits are present. If microcalcifications are found, your doctor will determine what the most appropriate next step is; however, most commonly, a repeat mammogram is performed to obtain a more detailed picture of the affected area. When the microcalcifications are identified as benign, probably benign, or suspicious, your doctor will determine what the most appropriate next step should be.
How are Breast Tissue Calcifications Treated?
Macrocalcifications do not require treatment as they are considered harmless. Microcalcifications are divided into three categories and treated according to severity. Benign breast tissue calcifications are not considered a threat to your health and treatment is not a necessity. Treatment for probably benign and suspicious deposits ranges from closer monitoring and repeat mammogram over the next six months or a breast biopsy of the affected and surrounding area. If suspicious deposits are found to be cancerous, treatment varies widely depending on each individual circumstance. Common therapies include radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery.
What Causes Breast Tissue Calcifications?
Aging and past trauma to the affected area can contribute to the formation of breast tissue calcification. There is no known preventative measure to take in order to prevent the development of breast tissue calcifications, and the amount of calcium you consume with your regular diet has not shown to be related.
Breast tissue calcifications are often benign and require no treatment or just a repeat mammogram. In cases where calcium deposits are pre-cancerous or even early stages of breast cancer, it is important to note that this is a common finding in very early stages of the disease. There are two biopsy procedures which are commonly performed, both of which are minimally invasive. Regardless of your diagnosis, it is imperative that you write down all questions and concerns and discuss them with your doctor. Each case is unique, and only your doctor can answer questions specific to your situation.
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