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Mar 14, 2012 11:46AM, edited Mar 14, 2012 03:45PM
Calcifications DO NOT lead to cancer. The majority of women get calcifications at some point in thie lives. Most calcifications - over 95%, I believe, are benign and harmless. Here is a good explanation of calcifications:
The calcifications are tiny deposits of calcium within breast tissue that are visible on mammograms. They're a very common finding, tend to become more common as women get older, and are described as two basic types. Macrocalcifications, which look like large white dots on a mammogram, are probably due to aging of the breast arteries, old injuries, or inflammation. Since they're associated with noncancerous conditions, they don't require additional testing such as a biopsy. The other type, microcalcifications, show up as tiny white dots. Most of these are also benign, but their size, shape, and pattern may indicate tumor growth, and require further testing (a follow-up mammogram or a biopsy) to rule out cancer. Even when microcalcifications are deemed "suspicious," most turn out to be benign.
Here are some of the many causes of benign breast calcifications:
- Calcium within the fluid of a benign cyst (this is called "milk of calcium").
- Calcifications associated with a dilated milk duct.
- An old injury to the breast.
- Inflammation due to infection.
- Skin calcifications caused by dermatitis (a rash) or metallic residues from powder, deodorants or ointments.
- Prior radiation therapy for breast cancer.
- Calcification of the arteries.
- Calcifications in a noncancerous growth called a fibroadenoma.
While calcifications do not lead to breast cancer, the presence of calcifications can be a sign of breast cancer. But here's the important thing to understand: Calcifications that are benign will never develop to become cancerous. When calcs are a sign of breast cancer, those calcs are BC right from the start.
The challenge for radiologists is knowing which calcs are benign and which are cancer. The first step is to see how they look on the film - how large are they and what is the pattern? Sometimes it's clear that the calcs do not in any way fit the profile of cancerous calcs. But sometimes it's difficult to tell. These are called "suspicious calcifications" and for these, a biopsy is done. In the end about 80% of these suspicious calcs are discovered to be benign and harmless. Sometimes calcs fall in the middle. They aren't clearly benign but they don't really look suspicious. These usually get the 6 month follow-up. What the radiologist is looking for is stability. If in 6 months there are no more calcs and the pattern hasn't become more concerning, then the odds are very high that these are benign. But if more calcs have developed and the pattern has changed to become more concerning, then a biopsy is done. It's because of these 6 month follow-ups that people think that calcs can become cancerous over time. But that's not what happens. The radiologist is not checking to see if the calcs develop into cancer; the radiologist is checking to see if more calcs show up indicating that they are there because of the presence of cancer.
I'm not sure if any of this makes sense. Basically what I'm saying however is that having benign calcs does not mean that you will develop cancer - benign calcs will not become cancerous. The main concern for someone with benign calcs is ensuring that they are properly screened so that if new calcs develop (which might be benign or might be a sign of cancer), the pattern of the new calcs can be identified.
A prophylactic MX is a mastectomy that is done for preventative reasons, when no cancer is present.
Edited for typos only.
Dx 9/15/05, DCIS-MI, 6cm+ Gr3 DCIS w/IDC microinvasion, Stage I, 0/3 nodes, ER+/PR- “No power so effectually robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear.” Edmund Burke