doctor with mammogram
Women's Health and Wellness

Breast Arterial Calcifications Could Signal Cardiovascular Disease

A 2016 study done at The Reading Hospital in Pennsylvania may lead medical professionals to rethink how they view breast arterial calcifications (BACs) on routine mammograms. Long believed to be as relatively benign, BACs could signal an increased risk of more serious health problems, including heart disease and stroke. The study results were presented at the 2016 Annual Meeting of The North American Menopause Society (NAMS) in Orlando, October 5th to 8th. The research involved ten years of follow up with 1,029 women who had BAC data at baseline but did not show signs of cardiovascular disease at time of recruitment.

The well-studied intimal layer calcifications are strongly associated with cardiovascular disease-related morbidity and mortality. However, BACs are calcifications of the medial layer of breast arteries and, by extension, generally perceived as merely benign findings. For this reason, BACs have been inconsistently reported on mammography to date.

Because the true clinical significance of BAC presence has not been well studied, this study was undertaken to assess whether the presence of BACs on routine mammograms could be an early marker for predicting the development of cardiovascular disease in women who did not present symptoms at baseline. The study showed that the presence of BACs may be specifically associated with a significantly increased ten-year risk of developing both coronary artery disease and stroke in asymptomatic women.

A release from NAMS quotes lead author Ragad Asmaro, MD, from Drexel University College of Medicine as saying, “After controlling for age, we found that BAC-positive women were 2.3 times more likely to have coronary artery disease and 3.2 times more likely to have a stroke.

In addition, NAMS executive director Dr. JoAnn Pinkerton is quoted as saying, “This study raises questions about the potential long-term health implications of BACs and demonstrates a need to conduct additional large population-based studies to confirm BAC as a predictor of future development of cardiovascular disease.”

“The ability to gain additional screening benefits from a test that is already routinely done, namely a mammogram, would offer a huge advantage without additional costs,” says Dr. Peter Schnatz, Study Primary Investigator and NAMS President. Dr. Xuezhi (Daniel) Jiang, one of the authors, also points out that this would offer a major advance in women’s health care, if these results can be confirmed.

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