New research suggests that the standard breast cancer screening test, mammography, could have the ability to check heart health as well.
When radiologists look at mammograms for signs of breast cancer, they can also see calcium deposits that have built up in the arteries that supply blood to the breasts.
Women with large calcium deposits in their breast arteries are likely to have developed similar deposits in the arteries leading to the heart. According to experts, these deposits are considered a very early sign of heart disease.
Calcium deposits in the breast arteries appear to be as strong a risk factor for heart disease as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
According to researchers, if follow-up studies confirm these findings, mammograms could have a dual use that covers both breast cancer and heart disease.
Results from the study are scheduled to be presented April 3 at the American College of Cardiology’s annual meeting in Chicago. The findings will be considered as preliminary until they’ve been published in a peer-reviewed journal.
The study included about 300 women who had digital mammography. The women also had a separate unrelated CT scan within a year of their breast cancer screening.
Researchers reviewed the mammograms for signs of calcium deposits in the breast arteries. These deposits show up bright white in x-ray scans. About 42% of women in the study had these deposits.
The results from the mammograms were compared with the results from the CT scans. The CT scans showed whether the heart’s arteries were also calcified.
Researchers found that about 7 of the 10 who had evidence of breast artery calcification on their mammogram were also found to have calcium deposits in their heart arteries.
About half of the women younger than 60 years old with heart artery calcification also had calcium deposits in their breast arteries. If a younger woman had breast artery calcification, there was an 83% chance she also had calcium deposits in her arteries.
According to researchers, young and middle-aged women in danger of heart disease could particularly benefit from this added benefit to their routine mammogram.