Breast calcification refers to a common condition, wherein traces of hard calcium get deposited in some of the soft breast tissues. They are usually harmless and medical attention is not always required. Nevertheless, calcifications of breast tissues along with other accompanying symptoms may signify breast cancer. Such a case is suspected with increased number of small calcium deposits. Hence, breast calcifications should not be neglected at any cost, unless a trusted doctor confirms their benign state.
What are the Causes of Breast Calcifications?
Any abnormal case of breast tissues, and the first thing that we assume it to be is none other than breast cancer. Well, this condition holds true for a few cases of breast calcifications, but there are many benign reasons that trigger calcium crystals to deposit in the soft breast tissues. Though the case doesn't sound familiar to majority of us, mild breast calcification cases are quite common. In fact, minute calcium depositions occur as a part of the aging process in older women. The possible breast calcification causes are listed below.
- Aging induced breast calcifications are mentioned already. When a woman grows older (say entering 40 years or above), small traces of calcium get accumulated within the breast tissues. They are not a subject to worry about, but monitoring the size and number of calcifications are directed to avoid complications.
- Previous trauma or physical injury to the breast may trigger the formation of calcium deposits in the breast tissues. Such calcifications caused due to injury appear curved or asymmetrical in shape. Over here, medical history and probable causes should be studied carefully to rule out cancer.
- One of the rare causes is infection in the breast tissues. Such a condition occurs amongst breastfeeding women, and is accompanied with painful inflammation of the breast (called mastitis). Breast infection usually leaves behind semipermanent calcifications.
- Breast calcifications may also be caused due to adverse effects of medications, especially those that are used for cancer treatment. Women who have undergone radiation therapy for cancer treatment are more likely to develop calcifications in the breast tissues than others.
- Plugging of a mammary duct is another triggering factor for unusual deposits of calcium in the breast tissues. The same condition is associated with milk duct dilation (mammary duct ectasia). Such cases of breast calcifications are benign.
- Although breast calcifications are seldom cancerous, they do indicate breast cancer in a few instances. This occurs when a breast cell divides rapidly or without control, and produces small crystals of calcium. As a result, the dividing cell disturbs the adjacent cells too.
- Breast calcifications are also caused due to fat necrosis. Over here, the fatty cells in localized areas die and become hardened. This fat necrosis not only results in inflammation of the nearby healthy tissues, but it is often accompanied with calcium buildup in the tissues.
- Other common causes of breast calcifications are related to metallic residues from cosmetic products, benign breast cysts, fibroadenoma, dermal calcification due to skin diseases and arterial calcification.
Depending upon the size of breast calcifications, they are of two types - microcalcifications (seen as tiny white specks in mammograms) and macrocalcifications (seen as large white dots or dashes in imaging tests). The former are manifested as residues of calcium deposits, left behind by cells that divide at a very fast rate, while the larger calcifications are harmless ones resulting from previous injuries and inflammations. As per medical data, approximately 80% of microcalcifications are benign and harmless.
Breast Calcifications: Symptoms and Treatment
After examining the shape, size and number of calcium deposits seen in the mammography result, they are grouped under benign, probably benign and suspicious types. When a group of microcalcifications are present, they are identified as something serious and further investigation is required. If necessary, the doctor may conduct a needle biopsy procedure of the breast tissues to confirm the malignancy of calcifications. Benign macrocalcifications, on the other hand, do not need further testing.
For the benign cases, repetitive mammogram procedures are directed at regular intervals to monitor major changes in the sizes and number breast calcifications. As far as breast calcification treatment is concerned, it is applicable for the cancerous cases. The doctor may recommend traditional breast cancer treatment approaches suited for the patient, which include chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery. It is to be borne in mind that there is no clinical proof that confirms the relation between ingestion of calcium supplements and breast calcifications.