Vascular Breast Calcifications

Vascular breast calcifications, or 'calcification of the arteries' are benign calcifications and completely unrelated to breast cancer. Essentially they are calcium deposits that line the blood vessel walls in the breast. They are frequently discovered on a breast cancer screening mammogram, but are seldom even mentioned on a mammographic report except as an incidental finding.

breast vascular calcifications often occur in the middle arterial layer

Sometimes vascular breast calcifications are called "Moenkenberg" calcifications, and they usually involved the middle layer of arteries. The image below shows a blood vessel in the center, the muscular walls of the arteriole, and calcium deposits (vascular calcifications) in the walls.

 

vascular breast calcification

 

microcalcifications can be associated with early breast cancer development

Most breast calcifications are benign. They are very common and most women will in fact have at least one calcification appear on a breast mammogram. Certain patterns and shapes of calcifications such as irregular shapes and clusters of smaller 'microcalcifications' are commonly associated with early breast cancer development, but most calcification is the result of other biological processes, unrelated to breast cancer.

Mammographic appearance of vascular calcifications

Breast Calcifications will appear as tiny white spots on a mammogram, and are the result of small calcium deposits within breast tissue. They tend to vinolve the enitre circumference of the peripheral arteries, and appear as 'diffuse' and 'thin' on the mammogram. Breast vascular calcifications (or BVCs) (also sometimes called Breast Arterial Calcifications- BAC ) will frequently appear as tubular or parallel 'tracks' on a mammogram. The breast Xray image below show vascular calcifications appearing in a diffuse, linear pattern.

 

Frequency of vascular breast calcification development

Vascular calcifications in the breast are detected on breast cancer screening mammograms with increased frequency as women age, especially after menopause. Vascular calcification are rare in younger women, and tend to be found in women over the age of 60. Overall, vascular calcifications may appear on about 9% of all mammograms. But for women over 65, about 50% will have developed vascular calcifications.

Is there a small chance that vascular calcification suggest breast cancer?

The chances that vascular calcifications are related to breast cancer is less than 5%. It is far more likely that they are related to an overall degeneration in vascular health (atherosclerosis), bone-mineral health, or diabetes.

 

References

  1. Ge, Jun., Chan, Heang-Ping., Sahiner, Berkman., Zhou, Chuan., Helvie, Mark. A., Wei, Jun. Hadjiski, LM. Zhang, Yiheng., Wu, Yi-Ta., Shi, Jiazheng. Automated detection of breast vascular calcification on full-field digital mammograms. SPIE conference proceedings, March 2008.
  2. Lee, M.(2000). Bone Mineral Density and Coronary Artery Calcification in Postmenopausal Women. ASBMR 2000 Presentation Number: M317.
  3. van Noord PA, Beijerinck D, Kemmeren JM, van der Graaf Y. Mammograms may convey more than breast cancer risk: breast arterial calcification and arterio-sclerotic related diseases in women of the DOM cohort. Eur J Cancer Prev. 1996; 5(6):483-7.
  4. Oliveira, E., Freitas-Junior, R., Afiune-Neto, A., Murta, E., Ferro, J., Melo, A. Vascular calcifications seen on mammography: an independent factor indicating coronary artery disease. Clinics vol.64 no.8 São Paulo 2009.
  5. Kim H, Greenberg JS, Javitt MC. Breast Calcifications due to Mönckeberg medial calcific sclerosis. Radiographics 1999;19:1401-3.
  6. Kemmeren JM, Beijerinck D, Noord PAV, Banga JD, Deurenber JJM, Pameijer FA, et al. Breast arterial calcifications: association with diabetes mellitus and cardiovascular mortality. Radiology 1996; 201:75-78.
  7. Crystal P, Crystal E, Leor J, Friger M, Katzinovitch G, Strano S. Breast arterial calcium on routine mammography as a potential marker for increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Am J Cardiol. 2000;86:216-7.

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Copyright Steven B. Halls, MD Last edited 21- August-2011

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