Calcium deposits located inside the breast tissue are called calcifications. It's important from the outset to state that calcifications are not always an indicator of breast cancer. Instead, calcifications should be considered a message to continue regular mammograms and monitoring by your doctor. Breast calcifications appear as white specks or dots on a mammogram. Determining whether the calcifications are dangerous or have the potential to be dangerous requires a radiology specialist's evaluation and consultation with your doctor.
The largest types of breast calcifications are called macrocalcifications. These types of calcium deposits are most often not cancer related according to the National Cancer Institute. These large calcium deposits stand out quite clearly in a mammogram, being about the size of a large grain of salt. Macrocalcifications will only become a concern when there are clusters of calcium deposits grouped together although this rarely happens.
Microcalcifications are clusters of very small calcium deposits in the breast. Doctors evaluate the incidence of these types of deposits based on location, size, groupings and shape to determine if a biopsy is necessary. Microcalcifications that are clustering in a group raise the concern that cancerous cells may be forming. In many cases, this indicates breast cell activity without the presence of cancer. Microcalcifications are monitored closely with regularly scheduled mammograms to check for any changes in grouping, size or shape.
Despite the name, calcifications cannot be caused by consumption of calcium. Instead, these normal and common deposits occur as breast tissue ages. Recognize that there may be an underlying cause for breast calcifications or there may very well be no cause at all. Some of the more common non-cancerous causes include a dilated milk duct, injury to the breast tissue, calcification of non-cancerous growths or cysts, infection and resultant calcium deposits from radiation therapy, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Treatment includes monitoring the calcifications with regular mammograms as well as taking magnified images to determine the extent of the calcifications. In some cases of clustering of deposits, a doctor may recommend a biopsy to determine if the calcifications are cancerous. In cases where extreme clustering is seen, biopsies are always recommended. Surgical biopsies involve your doctor removing the calcium deposits as well as some surrounding tissue. A needle biopsy can also be performed to remove pinpoint calcifications. Doctors extract the calcification through a hollow needle during the procedure. Since calcifications can only be seen when magnified by a mammogram, suspicious deposits are often marked with the careful placement of a thin wire into the breast tissue while locating the deposit on a mammogram. The doctor can then easily locate the calcification for removal.
Importance of Mammograms
Anything involving the presence of something odd in the breast evokes fear in a woman. It's important to understand that calcifications represent a normal change in the breast as a woman gets older. It's doubly important to obtain regular mammograms every year to have a clear picture of the breast at sequential intervals. Baseline (first) mammograms are used to establish a starting point for evaluation of breast health. Subsequent pictures are used to monitor any breast changes or in the case of calcifications, clustering of calcium deposits that might house cancer cells.