Microcalcifications and breast cancer can sometimes occur together. Microcalcifications, or microscopic bits of calcium, tend to build up in the area where cancer cells are quickly dividing and forming tumors. Microcalcifications are often detectable on mammograms, and doctors often consider them a sign of early breast cancer, or an indication of pre-cancerous activity in the breast tissue. While microcalcifications do not always signal breast cancer, the relationship that can exist between microcalcifications and developing tumors lets doctors know to investigate further for signs of cancer when microcalcifications appear.
Many women are diagnosed with early stage breast cancer after microcalcifications are found on mammogram results. Microcalcifications and breast cancer don't always go hand in hand. Sometimes the microcalcifications appear in conjunction with benign tumor growth. But spotting the accumulation of calcium within breast tissue can help doctors detect breast cancer in its earliest stages, when treatment can be most effective and the patient's chances of survival are highest.
The tendency of microcalcifications and breast cancer or benign tumors to occur together help to make mammograms an effective diagnostic tool for breast cancer. These calcium deposits in the breast tissue can help doctors find breast cancer before a palpable tumor forms. They also help in the early detection of cancers that do not usually cause palpable tumors.
When calcium deposits are detected in breast tissue, doctors typically use a combination of X-ray magnification and tissue biopsy to determine if these deposits are signs of cancer, or signs of benign development. X-ray magnification usually enlarges the mammogram image to the point where doctors can more thoroughly examine the physical characteristics of the calcifications. From examining the shape, size, and amount of microcalcifications, doctors can usually determine if breast cancer is possible. Most calcifications are benign. Even those originally classified as possibly malignant are eventually found to be benign almost 80% of the time.
Most women who are diagnosed with breast microcalcifications do not have breast cancer. If cancer is suspected, a tissue biopsy can confirm it. Most women who are diagnosed with breast cancer at this stage survive with treatment. The five-year survival rate for detecting breast cancer at this early stage is about 97%.