Researchers have determined that digital mammography, besides examining breast tissue for cancer, may also reveal heart disease risk and inform the patient of potentially life-saving information in just one exam.
This is because the amount of calcium in the arteries of the breast, which are seen in the scan, appear to reflect the amount of calcium in the coronary arteries. This muscular-walled tubes supply blood to the heart and the chemical found on it may be a sign of heart disease as reported by Reuters.
The link found between calcium in the breast arteries and calcium in the coronary arteries is a reason to “pay attention”, according to study coauthor Dr. Jagat Narula from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City.
For the study, 292 women who underwent both digital mammography and a chest computed tomography (CT) scan were analyzed by the team of researchers. They studied their heart disease risk factors such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, high blood sugar and smoking.
It was determined that 42.5 percent of the women had calcium in their breast arteries, as shown by the digital mammography. They were significantly older and had more high blood pressure and chronic kidney disease compared with those women who did not show breast arterial calcium.
Women who had coronary artery calcium represented 47.5 percent of patients in the study, which were also significantly older and had more high blood pressure, chronic kidney disease and diabetes than women who did not show calcium in their coronary arteries.
Further analysis showed that the presence of breast arterial calcium was about 70 percent accurate overall predicting the presence of calcium in the coronary arteries. The team from Mount Sinai said that the predictions were at least as well and in some cases better than standard risk predictors for heart disease.
A stronger motivator for women
Seeing images of calcification in the arteries of the breast could be the stronger motivator for a woman to take action to reduce the chances of developing clinically significant cardiovascular disease, commented Senior author Dr. Laura Margolies to Reuters by an email.
“Women should ask their radiologists if there was any calcification in their breast arteries. This information can then be given to their primary care doctors to be used in conjunction with standard risk factors to determine if further evaluation, or treatment, would be of benefit,” added Margolies.
She also commented that not all breast arterial calcification is indicative of significant cardiovascular disease. People who are already being treated for a cardiovascular disease, Margolies added, might not derive any further benefit from knowing that the arteries in the breast are calcified too.