Breast calcifications are calcium deposits located within the breast tissue. They cannot be felt through a breast examination. Instead, they are revealed through a mammogram. The two types of breast calcifications are macrocalcifications and microcalcifications. Macrocalcifications are usually noncancerous while microcalcifications can sometimes be malignant.
Macrocalcifications show up as large, white spots on a mammogram. They are usually the result of inflammation, old injuries, and breast arteries that are growing old. Microcalcifications show up as tiny white specks on a mammogram.
They are often located in the midst of cells that quickly divide. When the specks are clustered together, they are sometimes the warning sign that cancer is present. In this case, the doctor usually orders a biopsy of the breast.
When breast calcifications are found in a mammogram, the doctor enlarges the X-rays to determine the size, quantity, and shape of the calcium deposits. These characteristics determine if the deposits are benign or possibly cancerous. If a breast biopsy is scheduled because the deposits are possibly cancerous, the doctor can choose to perform the biopsy in one of two ways.
The first type of biopsy is called a surgical biopsy. Using local or general anesthesia, the surgeon uses a needle and injects blue dye into the site where calcium deposits are located. Breast tissue is removed from the area so it can be examined in a medical lab.
The second type of biopsy is called a stereotactic core needle biopsy. When this is performed, the patient is given local anesthesia so she remains awake during the procedure. Next, the surgeon uses a hollow needle to remove small layers of breast tissue. The tissue is then sent to the medical lab for analysis.
Not all breast calcifications are caused by cancer. Women with breast calcifications may have experienced breast injury in the past. Some may have breast cysts or calcification of the blood vessels or skin. Other women may have calcification deposits because they have blocked mammary ducts or have received radiation therapy in the past.
Breast calcifications found on a mammogram are taken seriously by doctors. The presence of these calcium deposits can be an early warning sign of breast cancer. Women who have calcium deposits in both breasts have a greater chance of developing breast cancer.
Those with deposits in only one breast have a lower risk of developing this serious disease. If a biopsy reveals that the deposits are benign, a doctor will recommend that patients return for a follow-up mammogram in six months. This will enable the doctor to closely monitor the appearance of the deposits. Changes in size, appearance, and quantity may reveal that breast cancer is beginning to develop.