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Q
What Causes Breast Calcifications?

I am having a needle biopsy for the third time in five years for breast calcifications. I am puzzled as to why I keep getting these when I have very healthy eating habits, do not smoke, exercise daily, and have no family history of breast problems. What can I do to avoid the breast calcifications? This is very frustrating.

A
Answer (Published 10/15/2009)

I can give you some general information about breast calcifications, but I don't have enough information to comment on your individual case. I can reassure you, however, that nothing you are doing - your eating and exercise habits or your family history - has anything to do with the problem. Nor is there any evidence that dietary calcium or post-menopausal hormone replacement therapy plays a role in breast calcifications.

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The calcifications are tiny deposits of calcium within breast tissue that are visible on mammograms. They're a very common finding, tend to become more common as women get older, and are described as two basic types. Macrocalcifications, which look like large white dots on a mammogram, are probably due to aging of the breast arteries, old injuries, or inflammation. Since they're associated with noncancerous conditions, they don't require additional testing such as a biopsy. The other type, microcalcifications, show up as tiny white dots. Most of these are also benign, but their size, shape, and pattern may indicate tumor growth, and require further testing (a follow-up mammogram or a biopsy) to rule out cancer. Even when microcalcifications are deemed "suspicious," most turn out to be benign.

Here are some of the many causes of benign breast calcifications:

  • Calcium within the fluid of a benign cyst (this is called "milk of calcium").
  • Calcifications associated with a dilated milk duct.
  • An old injury to the breast.
  • Inflammation due to infection.
  • Skin calcifications caused by dermatitis (a rash) or metallic residues from powder, deodorants or ointments.
  • Prior radiation therapy for breast cancer.
  • Calcification of the arteries.
  • Calcifications in a noncancerous growth called a fibroadenoma.

I'm afraid there is nothing you can do to prevent future calcifications, however, if a biopsy is recommended again, you might seek a second opinion.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

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