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Your Mammogram and Your Heart Health
How the mammogram may also provide a glimpse into cardiovascular health.
Most women are aware of the importance of mammograms for the detection of breast cancer. In the best case scenario, cancer is caught early, before it has a chance to spread and become seriously life threatening. About 70 percent of women have had a mammogram within the past two years, which is a testament to the perseverance of doctors and the importance of public awareness campaigns on many fronts.
What many women and their doctors do not realize is that the mammogram may also provide a glimpse into cardiovascular health. In about one in six women, calcifications will be seen in the blood vessels that feed the breast tissue. These calcifications are important markers for cholesterol buildup.
Earlier this year, Dr. Peter Schnatz and colleagues published the results of a study of 1,500 women who underwent routine screening mammograms. The association of arterial calcifications with heart disease has been known for several years, but this study was unique in that it followed women for five years after the initial mammogram. The results were striking. Women with arterial calcifications in the breast tissue were more than three times as likely to develop heart disease and four times as likely to have a stroke in the five year period after the mammogram as women with no calcifications. In fact, arterial calcifications were more predictive of heart disease and stroke than hypertension, high cholesterol, and family history.
Radiologists may not routinely report breast arterial calcifications, and doctors may not always share this information with patients if they don’t realize its importance. Next time you have a mammogram, read the report, or ask your doctor if arterial calcification was seen. Since heart disease and stroke kill as many as ten times more women than breast cancer, any extra information about the health of our cardiovascular systems can truly be lifesaving.
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