Mammograms May Also Help Spot Heart Disease
The breast screening test compared well to heart CT scans, researchers say
By Dennis Thompson
THURSDAY, March 24, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- The standard breast cancer screening test, mammography, may offer a surprising extra benefit -- the ability to check heart health, new research suggests.
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, said researcher Dr. Laurie Margolies. She's director of breast imaging at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.
Women with large calcium deposits in their breast arteries have likely developed similar deposits in the arteries leading to the heart. These deposits are considered a very early sign of heart disease, the study authors said.
And, 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, the researchers said.
If follow-up studies confirm these findings, a woman's mammogram could become a "two-fer" screening that covers both breast cancer and heart disease, Margolies suggested.
"By adding no cost, no radiation and very little time, we can find calcification in the vessels," Margolies said. "This is potentially practice-changing in how radiologists read and report mammography. It's a revolutionary way to assess risk."
Results from the study are scheduled to be presented April 3 at the American College of Cardiology's annual meeting, in Chicago. Findings presented at meetings are generally viewed as preliminary until they've been published in a peer-reviewed journal.
The study included nearly 300 women who had digital mammography. The women also all had a separate, unrelated CT scan within a year of their breast cancer screening, Margolies said.
The researchers reviewed the digital mammograms for signs of calcium deposits in the breast arteries. These deposits show up bright white in x-ray scans, Margolies said. About 42 percent of women in the study had these deposits.
"We see those arteries very well on mammography, and if some arteries are calcified we see their calcifications very well," Margolies explained.
The research team compared those results to the CT scans. The CT scans showed whether the heart's arteries were also calcified.