As a woman gets older, she will experience so many changes, such as grey hair, impaired vision, less elastic skin and so on. Breast calcifications are among all of them, which affect the breast tissues. Depending on their pattern and size, these depositions can either be benign or a cause of breast cancer. Successive mammograms need to be taken to rule out all harmful possibilities.
What Is Breast Calcification?
Breast calcifications can be defined as depositions of calcium salts in a woman's breast tissue. The depositions are so small that they cannot be felt and cause no pain. Generally, this condition is benign in nature and is no cause of concern. However, in certain cases, breast calcifications can be early signs of cancer.
There are two types of calcifications that can be detected through a mammogram:
- Macrocalcifications appear as large white and round spots on a mammogram and are randomly dispersed in the breast tissue. They are fairly common among women, especially above the age of 50, which are natural signs of breast ageing. These are benign (not cancer) in nature and cause no concern.
- Microcalcifications appear as numerous small white spots on the mammogram. Generally they are harmless. However, if they appear in clusters or have certain pattern, they can be signs of cancer and need to be further investigated and diagnosed.
What Causes Breast Calcifications?
Calcifications can be a sign of breast cancer; however, they are mostly harmless. Here are some main causes:
- They could be caused by a previous injury to the breast, which leads to death or damage of the tissue or fat necrosis. In this case, increased calcium deposits in the breast occur.
- During postmenopausal, women may often experience breast calcifications because of inflammation of the hair follicles on the breast skin, vascular calcifications in the blood vessels of the breast and sometimes even certain secretions by the cells and the cell debris.
- Breast cysts, which are fluid-filled small sacs like lumps in the breast and presence of fibroadenomas, or solid benign tumors, are other causes of calcifications.
- Disorders like mammary duct ectasia can cause blocked or clogged milk ducts, leading to increased inflammation in the duct lumen, causing calcification. Mastitis or infection to the breast tissue can also lead to calcium deposits in the breast tissue.
- Besides, even previous therapies, like radiation therapy for breast cancer, can sometimes lead to increased calcification in the breast.
When to Seek Professional Help
Although many causes of calcifications in breasts are benign and cause no concern, it is always best to get them tested by a medical practitioner. In some cases, the doctor would suggest some additional tests for you if the image of the calcification on a mammogram is not so clear or the causes are hard to determine.
Further tests could include mammograms with magnified view of the calcifications or even biopsy to determine the nature of these depositions, which will be used to compare the pattern of depositions in the breast tissue. Another checkup is required six months later in order to determine if there are any changes in the pattern, number and shape of the deposits.
If I Have Breast Calcifications, What to Do
Macrocalcifications are benign, cause no worry and need no treatments. However, with microcalcifications, further mammograms are needed to determine whether the calcifications are "benign", "probably benign" or "suspicious" in nature.
- If they are "benign", they are harmless and require no treatment.
- "Probably benign" calcifications have a very low risk of being cancerous in nature. You should do another checkup six months later to determine whether these depositions have changed in pattern or are stable. If nothing changes, the doctor will generally recommend an annual mammogram to monitor them constantly.
- "Suspicious" calcifications may be benign but it also can indicate cancer. So with this types of calcifications, doctor will ask you to do a biopsy to get a better understand of them. There are two biopsy types:
- Surgical biopsy: The doctor will first find an area to perform this procedure and mark it. Then a small piece of the breast tissue is extracted from that area under general anesthesia in an operating room of the hospital. At last, the sample is sent for examination in the laboratory.
- Stereotactic core needle biopsy: This procedure is also routinely performed. The surgeon removes small slivers of tissue by a thin and hollow needle with help of a computer guided device. The patient is under local anesthesia and requires no surgical operation. The tissue is then sent to the laboratory for examination.
If the test results show signs of cancer, treatment in the form of radiation, chemotherapy or even removal of the breast is recommended.