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Mammogram - calcifications

Definition

Calcifications are tiny deposits of calcium in your breast tissue. They are often seen on a mammogram.

Alternative Names

Calcifications on mammograms

Information

The calcium you eat or take in medicine does not cause calcifications in the breast.

Most calcifications are not a sign of cancer. Other causes of calcifications seen on a mammogram include:

  • Calcium deposits in the arteries inside your breasts
  • History of breast infection
  • Noncancerous (benign) breast lumps or cysts
  • Past injury to the breast tissue
  • Powders, deodorants, or ointments that are placed on the skin

Large, rounded calcifications (macrocalcifications) are common in women over age 50. They appear as small white dots on the mammogram. They are not thought to be related to cancer. More testing is rarely needed.

Microcalcifications are tiny calcium specks seen on a mammogram. Most of the time, they are not cancer, but may need to be checked more closely.

WHEN IS FURTHER TESTING NEEDED?

When microcalcifications are seen on a mammogram, the doctor (a radiologist) may ask for a magnified view so the calcifications can be seen more closely.

Calcifications that do not appear to be a problem are called “benign.” No specific follow-up is needed.

Calcifications that are slightly abnormal but do not look like a problem are called “probably benign.” Most of the time, a 6-month mammogram is recommended.

Calcifications that are irregular in size or shape, or tightly clustered together, are called "suspicious calcifications." Your health care provider will recommend a stereotactic core biopsy. This is a needle biopsy that uses a type of mammogram machine to help find the calcifications.

Most women who have suspicious calcifications do not have cancer.

References

Davidson N. Breast cancer and benign breast disorders. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 204.

Bartella L, Smith CS, Dershaw DD, Liberman L. Imaging breast cancer. Radiol Clin North Am. 2007 Jan;45(1):45-67.

James JJ, Robin A, Wilson M, Evans AJ. The breast. In: Grainger RC, Allison D, Adam, Dixon AK, eds. Diagnostic Radiology: A Textbook of Medical Imaging. 5th ed. New York, NY: Churchill Livingstone; 2008:chap 52.


Review Date: 11/15/2013
Reviewed By: Debra G. Wechter, MD, FACS, General Surgery practice specializing in breast cancer, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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