Harvard Women's Health Watch

Mammograms identify heart disease risk

Research We're Watching

mammogram heart disease risk
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When specks of calcium appear in ductal tissue on mammograms, they can indicate a small cancer. But when calcifications are found in the breast arteries, they haven't been a cause for concern. However, in recent years, physicians have begun to suspect that arterial calcifications in the breast, like calcifications in the coronary arteries of the heart, can be an early sign of cardiovascular disease.

A team of researchers at Mount Sinai St. Luke's Medical Center in New York City studied the test results of 292 women who'd had digital mammography and non-contrast CT chest scans within a year. None of the women were known to have heart disease. They found that 42.5% of the women had evidence of breast artery calcifications on mammography, and of these, 70% also had evidence of coronary artery calcification on their CT scans. Moreover, 63% of those whose CT images revealed coronary artery calcifications had breast artery calcifications as well. Over all, the results indicated that women with breast artery calcifications are three times as likely as those who don't to have coronary artery calcifications. The study was published online March 24, 2016, by JACC Clinical Imaging.

If your next mammogram indicates you have breast artery calcifications, you may want to discuss your risk for cardiovascular disease with your doctor.