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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

Microcalcifications or macrocalcifications; Breast cancer - calcifications; Mammography - calcifications

Information

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

Most calcifications are not a sign of cancer. Causes may 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 look like small white dots on the mammogram. They are most likely not related to cancer. You will rarely need more testing.

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

WHEN IS FURTHER TESTING NEEDED?

When microcalcifications are present on a mammogram, the doctor (a radiologist) may ask for a larger view so the areas can be examined more closely.

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

In most cases, calcifications that are slightly abnormal but do not look like a problem are also called benign. Most women will need to have a follow-up mammogram in 6 months.

Calcifications that are irregular in size or shape (spiculated), 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 NE. Breast cancer and benign breast disorders. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 198.

Hunt KK, Green MC, Buccholz TA. Diseases of the breast. In: Townsend CM Jr, Beauchamp RD, Evers BM, Mattox KL, eds. Sabiston Textbook of Surgery. 19th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:chap 36.

James JJ, Wilson RM, Evans AJ. The breast. In: Adam A, Dixon AK, Gillard JH, Schaefer-Prokop CM, eds. Grainger & Allison's Diagnostic Radiology: A Textbook of Medical Imaging. 6th ed. New York, NY: Elsevier; 2015:chap 69.

Review Date:10/2/2015
Reviewed By:Debra G. Wechter, MD, FACS, general surgery practice specializing in breast cancer, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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