Breast calcifications

Breast calcifications are small deposits of calcium in the breast. There are two types:

  • macrocalcifications
  • microcalcifications.

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

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 to the breast
  • inflammation.

Macrocalcifications are not linked with cancer and don’t need any treatment.

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

Tests may include a close-up mammogram and a breast biopsy. A breast biopsy is a test that checks whether any cancer cells are present. A doctor does this by taking a sample of breast tissue. They can either do this by using a needle under local anaesthetic, or with a small operation.

What are breast calcifications?

Breast calcifications are small areas of calcium in the breast. They do not cause any symptoms and you cannot feel them. They 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 areas of calcium look like big white dots or dashes on a mammogram.

Macrocalcifications are sometimes called benign coarse calcifications. They are a natural result of breast tissue ageing and they are harmless. They are not linked with cancer and they don't need any treatment or checking.

Macrocalcifications are found in about half of all women over the age of 50. They are found in about 1 in 10 (10%) women under the age of 50.

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 due to cancer. But a group of them in one area of the breast (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 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 won’t need any further tests or treatment.

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

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


Breast biopsy

This is when your doctor removes a small piece of tissue or cells from a lump or abnormal area. A doctor who specialises in analysing cells (pathologist) looks at the tissue under a microscope to check for cancer cells.

There are different ways of taking a biopsy. Your doctor or nurse will explain the type you will have. You will have your breast biopsy done in the breast clinic or an x-ray department.

Before your doctor takes the biopsy, they will use local anaesthetic to numb the area where they will remove the tissue. 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 gets better. Any bruising should go away within a few weeks.

Needle (core) biopsy

Your doctor gently puts a needle into the area of calcification to remove a small piece of tissue. They use an ultrasound or a mammogram, to help guide the biopsy needle to the affected area.

Vacuum-assisted biopsy (VAB)

Your doctor makes a small cut and inserts a needle through it into the breast. They use a mammogram or ultrasound to help guide the needle to the affected area. Your doctor uses a vacuum to gently remove a piece of breast tissue and put it in a small chamber. They can take several biopsies without needing to remove the needle and put it in again.

Wire-guided biopsy

If your doctor couldn’t remove enough breast tissue with a needle biopsy, they may suggest this. They may also suggest it if the biopsy result was not clear. The doctor uses an x-ray or ultrasound to guide a fine wire into the breast. This marks exactly where the surgeon should take the biopsy. The wire is kept in place with a dressing. You then have a small operation to remove the area of calcification. You may have this done under a general or local anaesthetic. Your doctor will discuss this with you.


Biopsy results

After a biopsy, most microcalcifications are shown to be non-cancerous (benign). If this happens, you won’t 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 breast care 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 breast nurse at the clinic. You can also talk to one of our cancer support specialists.

Back to Pre-cancerous conditions

Lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS)

Women with Lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS) should have regular breast screening. LCIS is not a cancer, but indicates a risk of cancer in later life.