Calcification Findings on a Mammogram

Carolyn Vachani, RN, MSN, AOCN
Last Modified: January 10, 2006

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My wife had a mammogram this week and was told that "calcifications" were seen in the left breast. She has been advised to see a surgeon and schedule a biopsy. Would you please explain "calcifications" and discuss the probability of malignancy.  
Thank you for your time and help,


Carolyn Vachani, RN, MSN, AOCN, OncoLink's Nurse Educator responds:

A "calcification" seen on a mammogram is simply a deposit of calcium in the breast tissue that is seen on the image as small white spots. There are several causes of calcifications, including fibroadenoma (a benign growth), arteriosclerosis (calcium in the artery), infection, previous tissue damage (from injury or radiation), calcium in a cyst, cancer, and even remnants of metallic ingredients in deodorant or powders.

It is estimated that about 20% of calcifications that are biopsied turn out to be cancerous. There are characteristics that the radiologist looks for on the mammogram that may make cancer more likely, for example, they are usually smaller, come in clusters, and have varying sizes. The radiologist will also compare the deposits to those on previous mammograms. A non-cancerous deposit will generally remain the same, whereas a cancerous one would grow.

Mammogram Interpretation Agreement Varies by Finding

Nov 12, 2012 - Agreement between community-based radiologists and an expert radiology panel for interpreting mammograms is high for cancer cases and obvious findings, but is low for subtle and asymmetric lesions, calcifications, asymmetric densities, and architectural distortions, according to a study published in the November issue of the Journal of the American College of Radiology.

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