A mammogram, an x-ray of the breast, is used as a screening tool to detect cancer and breast disease. According to the American Cancer Society, a diagnostic mammogram is performed when a screening mammogram shows an abnormal result, such as a lump or calcification within the breast. Calcifications in the breast are deposits of calcium that appear as white spots or lines on a mammogram. An abnormal mammogram showing breast calcification can indicate the presence of breast cancer.
According to RadiologyInfo.org, a screening mammogram uses low-dose radiation to x-ray the breasts. A mammogram is a non-invasive test. A mammogram is usually scheduled after your physician discusses any breast health conditions, including past medical history and use of hormone therapy with you. A radiation technician will position the breast on a platform in the mammography unit. A clear plastic paddle is lowered onto the breast, compressing it. Breast compression is necessary to prevent obscuring of any abnormalities. Two views are taken of each breast and the films are evaluated by a radiologist.
Abnormal Mammogram Results
Approximately 5 percent of all mammograms show an abnormal result requiring follow-up studies, according to Partnership for Breast Care. A lump or mass will usually show up on a mammogram. If the lump has well-defined borders, such as cysts and fibrocystic breast tissue, it is usually benign. A mass showing an irregular border indicates a possible cancer and a breast biopsy may be ordered. An abnormal mammogram will also show the presence of any calcification within the breast tissue.
Causes of Breast Calcification
According to Harvard Health Publications, breast calcification is seen in 50 percent of women over 50 and in 10 percent of women who are younger. There are no symptoms, so they are diagnosed by mammography. Calcifications appear as white spots or lines. Breast calcifications can be caused by injury to the breast, from trauma or radiation treatment. There can be calcification within an artery supplying the breast and in some cysts. Calcification can also occur within the glandular tissue of a breastfeeding woman. Ductal carcinoma in situ, a malignant tumor, will also show calcifications.
Classification of Breast Calcifications and Types
Calcifications found in breast tissue are classified according to distribution, notes Radiology Assistant. Diffuse or scattered calcifications can appear singly or in multiple areas around the breast and are typically benign. Regional calcifications are scattered about in a larger area of breast tissue are usually benign. However, segmental calcifications that appear in ducts usually indicate malignancy. Clustered calcifications of five or more occurring in close proximity can indicate malignancy as can linear calcifications that appear in a line. They generally indicate a malignancy growing in an entire duct. Macrocalcifications are larger calcifications typically associated with a benign process, such an old injury while microcalcifications, which are tiny, can appear where cells are rapidly dividing, as with a malignancy.
A surgical consult for a breast biopsy will be ordered if the abnormal mammogram or breast calcifications seem suspicious. During a biopsy procedure a small section of affected breast tissue is removed for further lab study. According to Partnership for Breast Care, 80 to 85 percent of women who have a biopsy performed receive a result showing no evidence of malignancy.
- American Cancer Society: Imaging Tests for Breast Disease
- RadiologyInfo.org: Mammography
- Partnership For Breast Care: Types of Breast Problems
- Harvard Health Publications: Calcium Beyond The Bones
- Radiology Assitant: Breast calcifications - Differential Diagnosis and BIRADS by Robin Smithuis and Ruud Pijnappel