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Mammogram - calcifications

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Alternative Names    Return to top

Calcifications on mammograms

Information    Return to top

Calcifications seen on a mammogram are small mineral deposits that show up as white spots on x-ray film. Calcifications can be noncancerous (benign), but they may be a sign of breast cancer.

Calcifications can be sorted into two groups:

Macrocalcifications are large deposits of calcium, and are most likely caused by aging of the breast arteries, old injuries, or inflammation. These deposits are related to noncancerous conditions and do not require a biopsy.

Microcalcifications are small pieces of calcium in the breast tissue. They may appear alone or in clusters. Microcalcifications are more worrisome, but do not always signal the presence of cancer. The shape and pattern of microcalcifications will help determine whether cancer is more likely to be present. In most cases, microcalcifications do not require a biopsy.

Sometimes additional tests, such as repeat mammograms, are used to monitor calcifications. In cases where the microcalcifications are more suggestive of cancer, the health care provider will recommend a breast biopsy. A biopsy is more likely to be needed if the calcifications are tightly grouped together or have characteristics that concern the radiologist.

References    Return to top

James JJ, Robin A, Wilson M, Evans AJ. The breast. In: Grainger RC, Allison D, Adam, Dixon AK, eds. Diagnostic Radiology: A Textbook of Medical Imaging. 5th ed. New York, NY: Churchill Livingstone; 2008:chap 52.

Muss HB. Breast cancer and differential diagnosis of benign lesions. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 208.

Update Date: 12/31/2008

Updated by: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; and Susan Storck, MD, FACOG, Chief, Eastside Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Group Health Cooperative of Puget Sound, Redmond, Washington; Clinical Teaching Faculty, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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