What are breast calcifications?
Breast calcifications are small spots of calcium salts that can occur anywhere in the breast tissue. Breast calcifications are small enough that you won’t feel them.
Calcifications usually develop naturally as the breast tissue ages. They can also form if you’ve had an infection in or injury to the breast; if you’ve had stitches or a breast implant; or as a result of a benign breast condition (for example, fibroadenoma).
Breast calcifications are very common and in most cases harmless. However, sometimes calcifications can be an early sign of breast cancer, and because of this your doctors may want you to have further tests to check what sort of calcifications you have.
How are they found?
Calcifications are usually found by chance on a mammogram (breast x-ray) which is being done for another problem, or during routine breast screening, where they show up as small white spots.
The results of your mammogram will be looked at independently by one or two radiologists, who look carefully at the shape, size and pattern of the calcifications. They then write a report in which the calcifications are usually categorised as looking benign, indeterminate (uncertain) or suspicious of being cancerous.
What happens next
If your calcifications are benign, then nothing more needs to be done – they don’t need to be removed and won’t cause you any harm.
If your calcifications look indeterminate or suspicious you will need further tests. This doesn’t mean that something is wrong – further tests will give your doctors more information to help them make an accurate diagnosis.
Further tests are likely to include:
- a detailed mammogram giving a close-up picture of the affected area
- a FNA (fine needle aspiration) biopsy where cell samples are extracted with a fine needle and syringe
- a core biopsy uses a larger needle to extract samples of breast tissue
- a stereotactic biopsy uses a computer and scanner to detect the calcifications
- a vacuum assisted biopsy (mammotome) removes the calcification without surgery. Breast tissue is sucked up through a needle until the calcification is seen to disappear.
These tests are usually done in the breast clinic or x-ray department. You won’t have to stay overnight in hospital.
Your doctors may recommend surgery to remove the area of the calcification from the breast so it can be looked at under a microscope.
If surgery is required, wire localisation is often used to pinpoint the area. The radiologist uses a mammogram or ultrasound scan as a guide to insert a fine wire into the breast under local anaesthetic. The wire is then carefully secured under a small dressing and left in place. This can usually be done within a day. A local or general anaesthetic is used for the operation so you won’t feel anything. Your doctors will tell you how to care for the area afterwards, and the operation will leave a small scar that will fade in time.
What this means for you
It’s likely that these tests will show your calcification/s to be harmless and you won’t need any more treatment. However, sometimes your doctor may want you to have another mammogram after 12 months.
If you have a benign breast condition as well your doctor will tell you if anything else needs to be done.
If you are told that the calcifications are a sign of early breast cancer, your surgeon or breast care nurse will talk to you about what this means and discuss your future treatment.
You may feel anxious about what having breast calcifications means for you, but having benign breast calcifications does not increase your risk of developing breast cancer.
It is important to continue to be breast aware and to go back to your GP (local doctor) if you notice any changes.
Last reviewed April 2012; next planned review 2013.