Calcifications and Microcalcifications
Calcifications (calcium deposits) or microcalcifications (small calcium
deposits) are the smallest particles visible on a mammogram. Calcifications
are a normal occurrence in aging breast tissues which have gone through
changes that cause death of cells, such as cysts, injuries or mastitis
(infection). However, they can also be a sign that cancer may be present.
Because of the potential for a malignancy, radiologists study closely
the findings of microcalcifications found during mammography.
A finding that would point toward further evaluation would be clustered
microcalcifications—four or more close together. A finding of clustered
calcium deposits, or calcifications that follow the path of a duct, would
be looked at closely by a radiologist, studying the shape and placement
of the calcifications. These calcium deposits are the smallest structure
that mammography can visualize. Therefore, special close-up mammography
views ¾ compression or magnifications ¾ will be taken to
give the radiologist the best possible diagnostic picture. Calcifications
associated with a malignancy have a pattern which appears to branch, with
irregular shaped edges and an asymmetrical (do not look alike) shape.
Often there will be a pattern of density (thickness of tissue) surrounding
the calcifications that may show up on the mammogram. Sometimes the calcifications
will take the shape of a duct which will alert the radiologist to a possibility
of intraductal disease.
After close study looking for evidence that would give the slightest suspicion
of problems, the radiologist will make a recommendation regarding treatment.
If the findings do not have the characteristics of malignancy, the calcifications
will be noted on the report and stated to be such. If the calcifications
are suspicious, your physician may choose to wait for several months and
re-examine with mammography to see if there are any changes in the area.
Then, a biopsy using needle localization or stereotactic biopsy can be
performed to evaluate the microcalcifications.
Mammography has given us great advantage in finding many cancers long before
they are detectable by palpation (feeling). Mammography is one reason
that many cancers are found in the earliest stages. Cancer that is still
in the ducts is considered curable with proper treatment. Before mammography,
there was no way to find cancer at such an early stage. Because most calcifications
are not associated with cancer in mammography, it is essential when a
finding is mentioned in a mammography report that patients understand so they
do not become anxious unnecessarily. Talking with the radiologist or surgeon
may be helpful.
Remember, do not wear any deodorant, powder or perfume on or near your
breasts when you go for your mammogram. These may cause spots or shadows
resembling microcalcifications to appear on your mammogram.