Breast calcifications

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Definition

Breast calcifications are calcium deposits within breast tissue. They appear as white spots or flecks on a mammogram but can’t be felt during a breast exam.

Breast calcifications are common on mammograms, and they’re especially prevalent after menopause. Although breast calcifications are usually noncancerous (benign), certain patterns of calcifications such as tight clusters with irregular shapes may indicate breast cancer or precancerous changes to breast tissue.

On a mammogram, breast calcifications can appear as macrocalcifications or microcalcifications.

Macrocalcifications. These show up as large white dots or dashes. They’re almost always noncancerous and require no further testing or follow-up.
Microcalcifications. These show up as fine, white specks, similar to grains of salt. They’re usually noncancerous, but certain patterns can be an early sign of cancer.
If breast calcifications appear suspicious on your initial mammogram, you will be called back for additional magnification views to get a closer look at the calcifications. If the second mammogram is still worrisome for cancer, your doctor may recommend a breast biopsy to know for sure.

Causes

Sometimes calcifications indicate breast cancer, such as ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), but most calcifications result from noncancerous (benign) conditions.

Possible causes of breast calcifications include:

  • Breast cancer
  • Breast cysts
  • Fibroadenoma a solid, benign mass most common in young women
  • Cell secretions or debris
  • Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS)
  • Mammary duct ectasia
  • Previous injury or surgery to the breast (fat necrosis)
  • Previous radiation therapy for cancer
  • Skin (dermal) or blood vessel (vascular) calcification

Products that contain radiopaque materials or metals, such as deodorants, creams or powders, may mimic calcifications on a mammogram, making it more difficult to interpret whether the calcifications are due to benign or cancerous changes. Because of this, skin products of any kind should not be worn during a mammogram.

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