Mammogram - calcifications

Definition

Calcifications are tiny deposits of calcium in your breast tissue. They are very commonly seen on a mammogram. (The calcium you eat or take in medication does not cause calcifications in the breast.)

Alternative Names

Calcifications on mammograms

Information

Most calcifications are not a sign of cancer. Other causes of calcifications 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, and only rarely need more testing.

Microcalcifications are tiny calcium specks seen on a mammogram. Most of the time, they are not a sign of cancer, but they can be cancerous.

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 are not worrisome are called “benign” and no specific follow-up is needed.

If the calcifications are slightly abnormal but not really suspicious, they are called “probably benign.” Usually, a 6-month followup 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 suspicious calcifications.

Most patients who have suspicious calcifications do not have cancer.

See also: Breast biopsy - stereotactic

References

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.

Muss HB. Breast cancer and differential diagnosis of benign lesions. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 208.


Review Date: 10/16/2011
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, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.
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