Study: Mammograms might benefit your heart health, too

Mon, Apr 25, 2016

A common test to screen for breast cancer may also offer clues about a patient’s heart health, a new study suggests.


Mammograms, a type of breast X-ray image, help radiologists identify abnormalities that could signal the presence of breast cancer. When analyzing mammograms, radiologists occasionally see calcium deposits in the breast arteries. Paying closer attention to those deposits might provide insight about a patient’s heart health, researchers say.


In a study published recently in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, researchers tried to determine whether the amount of calcium in breast arteries, found via mammograms, correlates with the amount of calcium found in coronary arteries during heart scans. Calcium in coronary arteries is a predictor of conditions such as heart attack and stroke. The study involved 292 women.


“There is a strong quantitative association” of calcium in breast arteries with calcium in coronary arteries, according to the research abstract. That’s because women with large calcium deposits in their breast arteries likely have developed similar deposits in their heart arteries, often an early sign of heart disease.


Calcium deposits in breast arteries may be as strong a risk factor for heart disease as conditions such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes.


“The study, while likely in need of additional validation, is a positive step toward strengthening efforts to better identify predictors of heart disease in patients, especially women, who present differently in many cases than men,” said Dr. Scott T. Weslow, an interventional cardiologist with Aurora BayCare in Green Bay, Wisconsin.


“The buildup of calcium in arteries, which is a marker of plaque, is usually a systemic process, meaning it involves the entire body. Therefore, it makes sense that plaque buildup in the breast arteries is a marker for plaque buildup in other arteries, such as the heart arteries. We’ll be watching for additional correlations and validations.”


Aurora BayCare Cardiology offers preventive cardiac care, heart disease management and strategies for a heart-healthy lifestyle. Call 920-288-8300 or 800-236-6309 for information or request an appointment online.


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BayCare Clinic,, is the largest physician-owned specialty-care clinic in northeastern Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. It is based in Green Bay, Wisconsin. BayCare Clinic offers expertise in more than 20 specialties, with more than 100 physicians serving in 16 area communities. BayCare Clinic is a joint partner in Aurora BayCare Medical Center, a 167-bed, full-service hospital. Follow BayCare Clinic on Facebook and Twitter.