Definition of breast calcifications
Breast calcifications are calcium deposits within breast tissue. They appear as white spots or flecks on a mammogram and are usually so small that you can’t feel them.
Breast calcifications are common on mammograms and they’re especially prevalent after menopause. Although breast calcifications are usually noncancerous (benign), certain patterns of calcifications — such as tight clusters with irregular shapes — may indicate breast cancer.
On a mammogram, breast calcifications can appear as macrocalcifications or microcalcifications.
- Macrocalcifications. These show up as large white dots or dashes. They’re almost always noncancerous and require no further testing or follow-up.
- Microcalcifications. These show up as fine, white specks, similar to grains of salt. They’re usually noncancerous, but certain patterns can be a sign of cancer.
If calcifications are suspicious, more testing may be necessary, including additional mammograms with magnification views or a breast biopsy.
Causes of breast calcifications
While some calcifications may indicate breast cancer, such as ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), most are noncancerous (benign) conditions. Benign causes of breast calcifications include:
- Previous injury or surgery to the breast (fat necrosis)
- Skin (dermal) or blood vessel (vascular) calcification
- Breast cysts
- Cell secretions or debris
- Mammary duct ectasia
- Previous radiation therapy for cancer
When to see a doctor
The radiologist will recommend additional testing if the calcifications can’t be seen well or their cause is unclear.
Your doctor will set up the appointment for the additional mammograms, which will likely include magnification views of the calcifications, or biopsy, if recommended by the radiologist. The radiologist may request any prior mammogram images to compare and determine if the calcifications are new or have changed in number or pattern.
The radiologist may recommend a six-month follow-up for another mammogram to see whether the breast calcifications have changed in appearance or whether they’re stable or unchanged.