Breast calcifications may be seen on a mammogram. These white spots that appear are actually small pieces of calcium that have been deposited in your breast tissue.
Most calcifications are benign, which means they’re noncancerous. If they aren’t benign, they may be the first sign of precancer or early breast cancer. Your doctor will want to investigate further if calcifications are found in certain patterns associated with cancer.
Breast calcifications are seen on mammograms pretty frequently, especially as you get older. About 10 percent of women younger than 50 have breast calcifications, and around 50 percent of women over 50 have them.
There are two kinds of calcification based on their size:
These are very small deposits of calcium that look like tiny white dots or grains of sand on a mammogram. They’re most often benign, but they can be a sign of early breast cancer.
These are larger deposits of calcium that look like large white dots on a mammogram. They’re frequently caused by benign conditions, such as:
- past injury
- changes that come with aging
Breast calcifications aren’t painful or big enough to be felt during a breast exam, either done yourself or by your doctor. They’re usually first noticed on a routine mammogram screening.
Often when calcifications are seen, you’ll have another mammogram that magnifies the area of calcification and provides a more detailed picture. This gives the radiologist more information to determine if the calcifications are benign or not.
If you have previous mammogram results available, the radiologist will compare them with the most recent one to see if the calcifications have been there for a while or if they’re new. If they’re old, they’ll check for changes over time that might make them more likely to be cancer.
Once they obtain all the information, the radiologist will use the size, shape, and pattern to determine if the calcifications are benign, probably benign, or suspicious.
Almost all macrocalcifications and most microcalcifications are determined to be benign. No further testing or treatment is needed for benign calcifications. Your doctor will check them on your yearly mammogram to watch for changes that may suggest cancer.
These calcifications are benign more than 98 percent of the time. Your doctor will monitor them for changes that could suggest cancer. Usually you’ll get a repeat mammogram every six months for a minimum of two years. Unless the calcifications change and your doctor is suspicious of cancer, you’ll then go back to having yearly mammograms.
High-risk calcifications are microcalcifications found in a pattern that’s suspicious for cancer, such as a tight, irregularly shaped cluster or a line. Your doctor will usually recommend further evaluation with a biopsy. During a biopsy, a small piece of the tissue with calcifications is removed and looked at under a microscope. This is the only way to confirm the diagnosis of breast cancer.
Although calcifications may indicate cancer is present, breast calcifications are not cancer and don’t turn into cancer.
Breast calcifications determined to be benign don’t need any more tests. They don’t need to be treated or removed.
If the calcifications are potentially a sign of cancer, a biopsy is obtained. If cancer is found, it’ll be treated with a combination of:
Most breast calcifications are benign. These calcifications are harmless and require no further testing or treatment. When calcifications are determined to be suspicious for cancer, it’s important that a biopsy is done to see if cancer is present.
Breast cancer found due to suspicious calcifications seen on a mammogram is usually precancer or early cancer. Because it’s typically caught early, there’s a very good chance that appropriate treatment will be successful.