Breast calcifications are deposits of calcium in the breast tissue. These calcifications usually cannot be felt, but show up on a mammogram as white spots, according to the MayoClinic.com. Deposits of calcium in the breast are a common condition, and the incidence of breast calcification increases after a woman goes through menopause. Calcifications in the breast are usually benign, but occasionally may be indicative of breast cancer. Several different breast conditions cause breast calcifications.
Calcifications often occur in conjunction with fibroadenomas in the breast, according to Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center. Fibroadenomas are benign tumors, meaning that they are not cancer, nor do they increase a person's risk for developing breast cancer. Fibroadenomas affect women most often in their 30s and 40s, and about 1 in 5 women have multiple fibroadenomas. Calcifications most often develop in fibroadenomas after a woman has gone through menopause, when the lump often shrinks in size.
Fat necrosis is a condition in which the fat cells die and cause inflammation in the surrounding normal breast tissue. The University of Virginia School of Medicine notes that this condition is most common in women who have large pendulous breasts, or in men and women who have sustained an injury to the breast tissue. The necrotic tissue creates a firm lump that is irregular in shape. Fat necrosis commonly is associated with calcifications, which are located within the necrotic tissue.
Mammary Duct Ectasia
Ducts are a type of breast tissue that carries breast milk from the milk-producing lobules to the nipple. The University of Virginia School of Medicine reports that, in mammary duct ectasia, the ducts become enlarged, with inflammation in the surrounding tissue. The elderly population is most susceptible to this breast condition. Mammary duct ectasia causes calcifications to form within the ducts, along with cholesterol crystals.
Even though breast calcifications are usually non-cancerous, sometimes they may be indicative of breast cancer. Breast cancer occurs when a cell of the breast tissue transforms into a cell that divides uncontrollably, does not die when it should, and harms the surrounding normal tissue. The MayoClinic.com describes how the size and pattern of calcification imaged by mammography can provide information about whether or not a lump is cancerous. Macrocalcifications, or calcification crystals that are larger in size, are almost always non-cancerous. The large calcifications appear on a mammogram as white dashes or dots. Microcalcifications composed of tiny calcium crystals are more likely than macrocalcifications to indicate cancer is present, but the majority of which are still benign. These tiny crystals appear on a mammogram as tiny white specks, and may look like grains of salt.rnrnIn addition to size, the pattern of calcification also provides information about likelihood of cancer. If the calcifications are in tight clusters and have irregular shapes, then cancer may, but not necessarily, be present. However, only a biopsy can definitively confirm a breast cancer diagnosis.