My doctor said my mammogram showed calcifications. Is that bad?
Calcifications are very common, especially after menopause. In fact, they appear on roughly half of mammograms of women over age 50, and they typically are not cause for concern. However, their appearance in certain patterns can sometimes be a sign of early or developing breast cancer.
What are calcifications?
Calcifications are simply small deposits of calcium. Calcifications can occur in many places throughout the body—some harmless and others (such as in the arteries) problematic. Various factors, including injury, inflammation, infection, and normal changes can cause calcifications to form in the breasts.
Why am I being called back for more testing?
When calcifications are detected on a mammogram, it’s not always easy to tell whether they’re a result of normal processes or a sign of cancer. Generally speaking, macrocalcifications (the larger variety) are considered harmless. Microcalcifications, which appear as tiny white flecks on a mammogram, are often also harmless, but because certain patterns and shapes of microcalcifications suggest the presence of breast cancer, additional testing is important to either diagnose or rule out cancer.
The radiologist will note the appearance of the calcifications on your mammogram, and they will be classified as benign, probably benign, indeterminate, or suspicious. If they are probably benign, then follow up will likely involve more frequent mammograms to keep an eye on them. If they are more suspicious, then your doctor will most likely recommend a biopsy to assess whether cancer is present.
Do I really need a biopsy?
You should fully discuss the decision whether or not to undergo a biopsy with your doctor. While biopsy is typically a simple and minimally invasive procedure, it’s important to understand the risks and potential benefits. Depending on the form the calcifications take, they could indicate a very small or a very large possibility of cancer. In the event that you do have cancer, finding it at the earliest possible stage will give you the best chance of enjoying a full recovery with the least invasive treatment.
It’s important to keep in mind that a doctor recommending that you undergo a biopsy is not the same as telling you that you probably have cancer. In fact, the vast majority of biopsies come back with benign results. Whether you have cancer or not, remaining as calm as possible and thinking clearly about your screening, follow-up, and treatment options is the best way to take care of your health.
At Iowa Radiology, we do our best to give patients the information they need to make the best possible choices for their health. For more in-depth information about mammogram follow up, click the image below to access our free ebook. To schedule your annual screening mammogram at our clinic in Ankeny, Clive, or downtown Des Moines, click this link. Saturday appointments are available in Ankeny and Clive!
 "Mammographic Abnormalities: II. Micro-Calcification." Moose & Doc Breast Cancer. Steven Halls, MD, 21 May 2017. Web. 23 May 2017.
 "What Patients Need to Know About Breast Biopsies." Medscape.org. WebMD LLC, 28 Dec 2007. Web. 23 May 2017.
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