OAKLAND, Calif., May 25, 2004 -- The presence of breast vascular calcifications found through common mammograms is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases in women, according to an article in the May Journal of Women’s Health.
In “Breast Vascular Calcification and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease,
Stroke and Heart Failure,” researchers at the Kaiser Permanente Northern
California Division of Research state that they have found a modest but
significant association between breast vascular calcification and risk
of coronary heart disease, stroke and heart failure. Calcium deposits in
the wall of arteries signify the presence of atherosclerosis, the
cholesterol deposits implicated in heart attack and stroke.
Carlos Iribarren, MD, MPH, PhD, research scientist at the Division of
Research, Kaiser Permanente, Northern California and the lead author of
the article, said: “More research is needed to clarify how useful
finding breast arterial calcifications may be for cardiovascular risk
assessment; however mammograms might represent a unique opportunity
since millions are done in the United States every year.”
“When vascular calcifications are found in a mammogram, particularly if
they are extensive, patients and clinicians should interpret this
finding in the context of other cardiovascular risk factors such as high
blood cholesterol, hypertension and elevated blood glucose (the
hallmark of diabetes),” Iribarren said.
For example, a woman who doesn’t know her blood glucose or cholesterol
level and whose mammogram shows vascular calcifications should undergo
routine testing for these factors. The overall cardiovascular profile,
and not the mammogram alone, should then dictate the need for further
diagnostic tests such as treadmill tests or myocardial perfusion scans.
The presence of breast vascular calcifications may also represent an
incentive toward a heart-healthy diet, avoidance of smoking and
engagement in more physical activity,” Iribarren said.
The study cohort consisted of 12,761 female patients of Kaiser
Permanente Northern California, aged 40 to 79 years, who attended
voluntary multiphasic health checkups at the KP Oakland Medical Center
between 1968 and 1973. Researchers compared the results of the
mammograms with the discharge diagnoses of these women from
hospitalizations from 1971 to 2000, and with the causes of death shown
in the California Automated Mortality Linkage System (CAMLIS).