Routine screenings for breast cancer can help identify calcium buildup — a sign of potentially serious coronary artery disease.
Calcium deposits can collect over time and block your coronary arteries, leading to heart attack and impaired heart function. These deposits are generally detected through coronary calcium scans — detailed imaging of the heart arteries. Now, researchers have found that women whose mammograms reveal calcium deposits in their breast tissue may benefit from talking with their doctors about their coronary artery health.
Research Reveals Link
In a 2016 study published by JACC: Cardiovascular Imaging, nearly 300 women were evaluated for calcium buildup in their hearts and breasts. Researchers found that seven out of 10 women with calcium buildup in their breast arteries also had calcium buildup in their hearts.
“Research is the first step to understanding the connection between breast artery calcification and coronary artery calcification,” said Brian Mattingly, MD, breast imaging radiologist with Medical Center Jewish East, part of KentuckyOne Health. “This could give us another tool for identifying coronary artery disease and helping patients who suffer from it.”
Risk factors for coronary artery calcification include advanced age, diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol and a history of smoking. Coronary artery calcification can take years to develop and is often a symptom-free condition until it is advanced.
Mammogram results that include signs of breast calcium buildup can help start conversations about heart disease before the condition becomes serious. If calcium buildup is discovered, doctors can perform further screenings to determine if patients also have other known risks of heart disease, such as high cholesterol, or if the buildup is a symptom of more advanced coronary artery disease.
“Mammograms are already a useful tool and could prove even more beneficial once additional studies tell us more about their potential for identifying coronary artery disease,” Dr. Mattingly said. “We’re excited to see where this research leads and about carefully applying it to our patient population once more evidence and best practices are established.”
To schedule your digital mammogram today, find a location near you or call 502.587.4327.
This article originally appeared in the 2017 Fall edition of One Health Magazine. Sign up for your free subscription.