July 14, 2009

Breast Calcifications

Breast calcifications are calcium deposits within breast tissue. They appear as white spots or flecks on a mammogram and are usually so small that you can't feel them.

Breast calcifications are common in all women and are even more prevalent after menopause. Although breast calcifications are usually noncancerous (benign), certain patterns of calcifications — such as tight clusters with irregular shapes — may indicate breast cancer.

On a mammogram, breast calcifications can appear as large white dots or dashes (macrocalcifications) or fine, white specks, similar to grains of salt (microcalcifications). Macrocalcifications are almost always noncancerous and require no further testing or follow-up. Microcalcifications are usually noncancerous, but certain patterns can be a sign of cancer. If calcifications are suspicious, further testing may be necessary.

While some calcifications may indicate breast cancer, there are many conditions in the breast that can cause calcifications to form. Causes of breast calcifications include:

Breast cysts
Calcification in a fibroadenoma, a noncancerous growth
Cell secretions or debris
Mammary duct ectasia
Previous injury to the breast
Previous radiation therapy for cancer
Skin (dermal) or blood vessel (vascular) calcification

When to see a doctor
Your doctor may recommend additional testing if the calcification:

Is clustered rather than scattered throughout the breast
Varies in size and shape from other calcifications
Is irregularly shaped
These tests may include additional mammograms with compression or magnification views of the calcification, as well as ultrasound imaging or biopsy. The radiologist also will likely request any prior mammogram images you have had to compare and determine if the calcifications are new or have changed in number or pattern. Some women are instructed to return for another mammogram in six months.

Adapted from: Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research