What are breast calcifications?

Breast calcifications are small clusters of calcium deposits that develop in breast tissue, most commonly in women over 50. They are painless so women don’t know they have them unless they are detected by a mammogram. They are too small to feel, but can show up on a mammogram as small, bright, white spots.

While calcifications are usually harmless, they can be a sign that a woman is at risk for developing breast cancer and needs more testing. For instance, if the cluster of calcifications is tight or they are noted to present as lines of tiny calcifications, the radiologist may recommend additional mammogram images for further testing. The patient can talk to her doctor to learn more about her specific situation.

What causes breast calcifications?

It is not known what causes calcifications to develop in breast tissue, but they are not caused by eating too much calcium or taking too many calcium supplements.

They are seen on mammograms of about half of all women over age 50. However, they also are seen in about 10 percent of mammograms on younger women. Women who have had breast surgery for any reason or who have injured their breasts, such as in a car accident, seem to be at higher risk for developing calcifications, as are women who have been treated for breast cancer in the past. Calcifications may also occur within vessels in the breast related to older age or from a past infection in the breast tissue.

What are the symptoms of breast calcifications?

Most women who have breast calcifications do not have any symptoms. They typically only learn they have them from a routine mammogram.

Are there different types of breast calcifications?

There are two types of breast calcification.

  • Macrocalcifications: These appear as round and large bright white spots on a mammogram randomly scattered throughout the breast tissue. This is the most common type. They are typically not related to cancer and usually do not need follow up.
  • Microcalcifications: These are smaller white spots on a mammogram. While these can be randomly scattered as well, they are sometimes grouped together and can be a sign of cancer. If your mammogram finds microcalcifications, your doctor will note any change in their appearance over time and probably order more tests.

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