What are breast calcifications?

Breast calcifications are small spots (deposits) of calcium in the breast. They do not cause any symptoms and you cannot feel them. They are usually found during a routine breast x-ray (mammogram).

Calcifications are common and in most cases they are harmless. There are two types:

  • macrocalcifications
  • microcalcifications.

Macrocalcifications (benign coarse calcifications)

These are areas of calcium that look like big white dots or dashes on a mammogram.

Macrocalcifications are sometimes called benign coarse calcifications. They can develop naturally as breast tissue gets older and are harmless. They are not linked with cancer and do not need treatment or monitoring.

Macrocalcifications can develop in women of any age. But they are more common in women who have been through their menopause.

They may be caused by:

  • calcium deposits in a cyst or in milk ducts as women get older
  • previous injuries to the breast
  • inflammation.

Calcium in the diet does not cause calcifications.

Microcalcifications

These are tiny calcium deposits that show up as small 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 linked with cancer. But a group of them in one area of the breast (a cluster) may be a sign of:

  • pre-cancerous changes
  • early breast cancer.

What happens if calcifications are seen on a mammogram?

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

If they only find macrocalcifications, you will not need any further tests or treatment.

If they find microcalcifications, they will usually ask you to have a magnification mammogram of the affected area. If the results of this show the changes are clearly not cancer, you will not need any more tests.

If the results are not clear, your doctor will suggest you have a small piece of tissue taken from your breast, called a biopsy. Your doctor will look at the tissue under a microscope. This gives them more information to help them make a diagnosis.

Biopsy results

A biopsy shows whether microcalcifications are non-cancerous (benign) or cancerous (malignant). Most microcalcifications are non-cancerous, and you will not need any treatment.

If there are cancer cells, it is usually a non-invasive breast cancer called ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), or a very small, early breast cancer. These can both be treated successfully.

Your feelings

If you are told you have breast calcifications and need further tests, it is natural to feel worried. But it is important to remember most breast calcifications are not a sign of cancer.

If the biopsy results show there is an early breast cancer, a surgeon or specialist nurse will explain more about this. They will talk to you about the treatment you need and give you support to help you cope.

If you have any concerns, talk to the doctor or specialist nurse at the clinic. You can also talk to one of our cancer support specialists.