Breast calcifications are small benign (noncancerous) calcium deposits that mostly develop in the breast tissue. Although the calcifications are non-cancerous, there are certain rare types that may occasionally indicate early breast cancer.
Types of Breast Calcification
There are two major types of breast calcifications, these are:
- Macrocalcifications: These are the most common type of breast calcifications, and they present as large calcium deposits and look like white dots on a mammogram and are usually dispersed randomly within the breast. Macrocalcifications are non-cancerous and are found in approximately half of women over the age 50, and one in 10 women under the age 50.
- Microcalcifications: These are small calcium deposits that look like white specks on a mammogram. Typically, cancer is not the cause of microcalcifications, however, if they exhibit specific patterns and gather in one area, they may indicate the presence of precancerous cells or early breast cancer onset.
Symptoms of Breast Calcifications
Most breast calcifications are too small to feel during a breast exam and frequently don’t manifest any symptoms. Instead, it’s more probable that the patient will find out about them during a routine mammogram.
Causes of Breast Calcifications
Benign calcifications may occur as a result of:
- Breast cysts
- Breast infections
- Breast injury
- Aging arteries in the patient’s breast
- Previous breast surgery
- Previous breast cancer treatment
- Benign breast lumps
- Mammary breast surgery
- Normal aging
- Past trauma in the area
It is important to note that calcium from an individual’s diet does not cause breast calcifications.
Diagnosis of Breast Calcifications
Since most breast calcifications are noncancerous, they might not require any special follow-up. However, there is an overlap between calcifications that are often benign and calcifications that might be a sign of something more sinister.
The following tests can be recommended by a radiologist to rule out cancer:
- Diagnostic mammogram: Compared to mammography used for routine screening, this type is more thorough. To provide the radiologist with a better view, various perspectives of the breast tissue that has the calcifications is captured on camera.
- Biopsy: This is a minimally invasive procedure that involves using a fine needle to extract a small amount of breast tissue for further analysis. During the procedure, the physician will use mammogram images to guide the biopsy. The breast tissue taken from the calcifications is then sent to the lab.
Treatment for Breast Calcifications
The majority of benign (non-cancerous) causes of breast calcification do not require any form of treatment. In order to determine whether the calcifications have changed, the radiologist who evaluates the patient’s X-rays for the next mammograms can compare fresh images with the old ones.
The patient might need to see a specialist who specializes in breast disorders if one or more follow-up tests reveal that the calcifications are abnormal or might be symptoms of breast cancer.
If the calcifications are cancerous, several treatment options may be recommended, which will depend on the size of the cancer, location, stage, and overall health of the patient. These treatment options include:
- Lumpectomy: Also known as breast-conserving surgery, a lumpectomy is a procedure that involves removing part of the breast. Radiation therapy may be recommended after the procedure to kill any remaining cancer cells.
- Mastectomy: This involves the removal of the entire breast tissue. Patients who have numerous, highly aggressive invasive ductal tumors may benefit from a mastectomy. This procedure can be followed by breast reconstruction.
- Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is the use of medication to kill cancer cells, typically by preventing the growth, division, and production of new cancer cells. This can be administered before surgery to shrink a large tumor thus making surgery easier and/or lower the chance of recurrence.
- Radiation: This involves the use of high-energy x-rays to destroy cancer cells.
- Hormone therapy: Also known as endocrine therapy, this is a fairly effective treatment for the majority of cancers that test positive for either the ER or PR hormone receptors. Prior to surgery, hormonal therapy may also be used to shrink a tumor. This will facilitate surgery and/or reduce the risk of recurrence.
- Biologic (targeted) therapy: The method uses antibodies or small molecule drugs to activate the patient’s body’s immune system to fight cancer cells.