While many breast calcifications can be benign, they can also be found in association with breast cancer.

Many women never have symptoms when they have breast cancer. They may not feel any different. For this reason, if you have breast calcifications, ruling out breast cancer is a good idea.

Breast calcifications are calcium deposits within the breast tissue. A mammogram can show if you have breast calcifications.

On mammograms, breast calcifications look like white spots or flecks. They’re common in older women, especially those who have gone through menopause.

Most breast calcifications are noncancerous (benign). Certain patterns of calcifications may be an indication of breast cancer. If calcifications are in tight clusters with irregular shapes, or if they grow in a line, that could indicate cancer.

Calcifications themselves don’t tend to cause symptoms. Symptoms usually occur from associated underlying conditions. When breast cancer is symptomatic, the symptoms can include:

  • lump in the breast or under the arm
  • swelling in the breast
  • redness or inflammation on the nipple
  • discharge from the nipple that may be bloody and is not breast milk
  • change in breast size or shape
  • pain in the breast

In another example, sclerosing adenosis causes extra growth of tissue within the milk-producing glands and ducts of the breasts. This extra tissue can contain calcification. This condition can sometimes cause pain.

Small deposits of calcium in the breast tissue create breast calcifications. Often calcifications happen as time goes on as a result of aging. Other times, calcification indicates that something is going on inside your breast tissue. This can be breast cancer, but in many cases, it’s something benign.

Benign causes of calcification may include:

There are two main types of breast calcification that can appear on a mammogram: macrocalcifications are usually larger than 0.5 millimeters (mm) and can look like dots or lines. These are most often benign. If you have this kind, you won’t need additional treatment, but your doctor will usually want you to return for follow-up testing.

Microcalcifications are smaller than 0.5 mm and usually look like fine, white specks like grains of salt. Microcalcifications may fit into one of the following categories by the radiologist, which may appear on your mammogram report as:

  • benign
  • probably benign
  • suspicious
  • highly suspicious

If the mammogram shows that your microcalcifications are located in an area of rapidly dividing cells, or if they are grouped together in a specific way, your doctor will probably interpret it as suspicious of ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) or breast cancer. You may need a biopsy based on the radiologist’s interpretation of your mammogram.

Anything that appears benign will likely not require any treatment. It may require some follow-up to make sure it does not develop into something suspicious.

If you are worried about getting breast calcifications and what they mean, there are things you can do to help you feel safer:

  • Get a mammogram to see if you have breast calcifications. Since microcalcifications are small, they can sometimes be difficult to see. You may have to get a type of mammogram called a full-field digital mammogram. It provides the same results, but makes it easier to see the microcalcifications clearly.
  • Get a breast biopsy if your doctor says that your mammogram shows a calcification pattern that’s suspicious or highly suspicious.
  • If your results are benign, speak to your doctor about getting additional mammograms to monitor your calcifications. The radiologist can then compare newer images to older images for changes in the pattern or size of your calcifications. Some doctors recommend a repeat mammogram every 6 months, but you might not need it if you don’t have underlying risk factors such as family history of breast cancer or genetic mutations like BRCA1 or BRCA2.

Getting a second opinion

No one knows your body better than you. If your biopsy results are malignant, or even if they’re benign, it’s always fine to get a second opinion, and is usually a good idea.

Make sure to see a specialist. You can take your mammogram results to a breast imaging center to be reexamined by a breast imaging radiologist or see another doctor. Ask your insurance how this will be covered.

Your doctor may even recommend you get a second opinion, especially if you have had cancer or have a family history of cancer.

Follow-up and additional tests

If your mammogram indicates cancer, your doctor can help get you an appointment for a second opinion to make sure your diagnosis is correct.

Your doctor can help you obtain the records you may need for your appointment. At the breast imaging center, the radiologist can compare your past mammograms and look for noticeable changes.

They may also recommend additional testing. If the second opinion confirms your diagnosis, your next step is to consult with a breast surgeon, who can guide you on the next steps of treatment and refer you to an oncologist if necessary.

As with any medical condition, it’s important to understand what breast calcifications are and get properly tested. Having breast calcifications doesn’t mean you will definitely have cancer. But it will help you be less anxious and help your doctor catch any cancer, should it develop, early. This way, you can get the most timely treatment.