Breast calcifications: Are they breast cancer?

content provided by mayoclinic.com

Breast calcifications: Are they breast cancer?

Question

What causes breast calcifications? Are they associated with breast cancer?

Margaret
Ohio

Answer

Breast calcifications are tiny calcium deposits within the breast tissue that appear as white spots on a mammogram. Breast calcifications are common. Many women have at least one calcification that can be seen on a mammogram. Although breast calcifications are usually noncancerous (benign), certain patterns of calcifications — such as tight clusters with irregular shapes — may indicate breast cancer.

The two main types of breast calcifications are:

  • Macrocalcifications. They appear as large white dots or dashes on a mammogram. Macrocalcifications are almost always noncancerous and require no further follow-up.
  • Microcalcifications. They appear as very fine white specks on a mammogram. Microcalcifications are usually noncancerous but can sometimes be a sign of cancer. The radiologist will look at the size, shape and pattern of the microcalcifications. If they appear suspicious, additional mammograms and a biopsy may be needed.

Noncancerous causes of breast calcifications include:

  • Calcium within the fluid of a noncancerous cyst (milk of calcium)
  • Calcifications associated with a dilated milk duct
  • Previous injury to the breast (post-traumatic fat necrosis calcification)
  • Inflammation due to infection (mastitis)
  • Skin (dermal) calcifications such as caused by dermatitis or residue from metallic particles in powders, ointments and deodorants
  • Radiation therapy for breast cancer
  • Calcification of the arteries (vascular calcifications)
  • Calcifications in a fibroadenoma, a noncancerous growth

Breast calcifications on mammogram

Image of breast calcifications on mammogram

Calcifications are small calcium deposits in the breast that show up as white spots on a mammogram. Large, round, well-defined calcifications (left column) are more likely to be noncancerous (benign). Tight clusters of tiny, irregularly shaped calcifications (right column) may indicate cancer.

Last Updated: 08/10/2006
© 1998-2014 Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER). All rights reserved. A single copy of these materials may be reprinted for noncommercial personal use only. "Mayo," "Mayo Clinic," "MayoClinic.com," "Mayo Clinic Health Information," "Reliable information for a healthier life" and the triple-shield Mayo logo are trademarks of Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research.

Terms and conditions of use

 

Bookmark and Share   E-Mail Page   Printer Friendly Version