Breast calcifications

Breast calcifications are small deposits of calcium in the breast. There are two types, macrocalcifications and microcalcifications.

In most cases, breast calcifications are harmless. They are usually picked up during a mammogram (breast x-ray).

Macrocalcifications are found in about half of all women over the age of 50. They are a natural result of breast ageing. They may be caused by calcium deposits in milk ducts, previous injuries or inflammation. They are not linked with cancer and don’t need any treatment.

Microcalcifications are not usually due to cancer. But can sometimes be a sign of pre-cancerous changes or early breast cancer if a group is found in one area. You may need further tests if these are found.

Tests may include a further, close-up mammogram and a breast biopsy. A breast biopsy is a type of test that checks if any cancer cells are present. A sample of breast tissue is collected using either a needle under local anaesthetic or a small operation.

Breast calcifications

Breast calcifications are small areas of calcium in the breast. They can't be felt and usually show up on a breast x ray (mammogram). Calcifications are very common, and in most cases they are harmless. There are two types:

Macrocalcifications

These are coarse calcium deposits in the breast. They look like large white dots or dashes on a mammogram. Macrocalcifications are a natural result of breast ageing and are harmless. They are not linked with cancer and don't need any treatment or checking.

They are found in about half of all women over the age of 50, and in about 1 in 10 (10%) of younger women. They may be caused by calcium deposits in a cyst or in milk ducts as women get older, or as a result of previous injuries or inflammation. Calcium in the diet does not cause calcifications to form.

Microcalcifications

These are tiny calcium deposits that show up as fine white specks on a mammogram. They are usually found in an area of the breast where cells are being replaced more quickly than normal. Microcalcifications are not usually due to cancer. But sometimes a group of microcalcifications seen together in one area (a cluster) may be a sign of pre-cancerous changes or early breast cancer.


If calcifications are seen on a mammogram

If your mammogram shows that there are calcifications, a person who specialises in reading x-rays and scans (radiologist) will look at the size, shape and pattern of calcifications. They will then decide if any further tests are needed.

If only macrocalcifications are found, you won’t need any treatment. If microcalcifications are found, you will usually be asked to have a close-up mammogram of the affected area.

If the results of this mammogram show the changes are clearly not cancer (benign), you won’t need to have any more tests or investigations.

If the results are uncertain, you’ll be advised to have a small sample of tissue taken (biopsy) for examination under a microscope. This gives your doctor more information to help them make an accurate diagnosis.


Breast biopsy

You’ll have a breast biopsy done in the breast clinic or an x-ray department. Your doctor or nurse will explain more about the type of biopsy you will have.

Before the biopsy is taken, the doctor will numb the area where the tissue is to be removed with local anaesthetic. You may feel some discomfort or pressure during the biopsy but only for a short time.

Your breast may be bruised and feel sore for a few days afterwards. You can take painkillers until this eases off and any bruising should go away within a couple of weeks.

Needle (core) biopsy

Your doctor will gently put a needle into the area of calcification to remove a small piece of tissue. They will do this using an ultrasound or a mammogram, which show pictures of the breast, to help guide the biopsy needle to the area of calcification.

Vacuum-assisted biopsy (VAB)

The doctor will place a needle into the area of calcification guided by an ultrasound or mammogram. When the needle is in position, a vacuum gently draws and removes some breast tissue into a small collecting chamber.

Wire guided biopsy

This may be done when a needle (core) biopsy hasn’t removed enough of the calcification, or when the biopsy result is not clear. The doctor inserts a thin wire into the breast - using an ultrasound or a mammogram to guide it – to mark the position of the calcification. The wire is kept in place with a dressing. You will have a small operation and the surgeon will remove the area of calcification. You may have this done under a local or general anaesthetic.


Biopsy results

Most microcalcifications are shown by a biopsy to be non-cancerous (benign). If this is the case, you won’t need any treatment. If cancer cells are found, it is usually a non-invasive breast cancer called ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), or a very small, early breast cancer. Both these can be treated very successfully.


Back to Pre-cancerous conditions

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