Breast screening may also predict heart risk, say radiologists

23 Apr

The age range of women who are screened for breast cancer is the same as those

who would most benefit from assessment of heart risk. Now, a new study presented at a

meeting this week suggests the breast screening mammogram could be an aid for heart risk


A woman undergoing mammography
Researchers say the breast screening mammogram

could play an important role in identifying women

who may benefit from coronary artery disease prevention.

The researchers presented their findings at the annual meeting of the American

Roentgen Ray Society (ARRS) in Toronto, Canada, on Wednesday.

One of the investigators, Laurie Margolies, associate professor of radiology at the

Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, NY, says:

“The opportunity to diagnose cardiovascular risk on mammography heralds a

paradigm shift in imaging.”

A digital mammogram is a computer recording of the image created when X-rays pass

through breast tissue. In breast cancer screening, images of the breast are analyzed for

abnormalities and assessed for changes that may have appeared since the previous

screening visit.

From the X-ray images, it is possible to detect tumors that cannot be felt. Screening

mammograms can also find tiny deposits of calcium (microcalcifications) that sometimes

indicate the presence of breast cancer.

Striking relationship between calcification of breast arteries and coronary


Prof. Margolies and colleagues set out to investigate whether the amount of calcium

deposits in breast arteries could be used to assess risk factors for cardiovascular


It is already known that having calcium deposits in the coronary artery correlates

with cardiovascular disease and death. Therefore, the team wanted to explore if breast arterial

calcification might correlate with coronary artery calcification.

For their study, they looked at imaging results from 371 women who had a digital

mammogram and chest CT scan performed within 1 year of each other.

From the mammograms, they derived a breast arterial calcification (BAC) score based on

the number of blood vessels affected and the extent of calcification. Scores for coronary artery calcification (CAC) were obtained from the CT scan.

When they compared the calcification scores from the mammograms with those of the CT

scans, the team found a striking relationship between the two.

In 76% of the women, those with a BAC score of 0 also had a CAC score of 0.

And as the BAC score went up, there was a corresponding rise in CAC score.

The researchers conclude their findings show that using the breast screening mammogram

to assess breast arterial calcification could play an important role in identifying women

who may benefit from coronary artery disease prevention.

It would also mean no additional cost, time and radiation exposure, they note. Prof.

Margolies suggests that:

“Providing this knowledge to patients and ordering physicians increases

the opportunity for patients to take advantage of cardiovascular risk-reduction

strategies while screening for breast cancer.”

Meanwhile, Medical News Today recently learned that, compared with women who

are continuously married, divorced women may have a

significantly higher risk of heart attack.

That study also found that two or more divorces put women at almost twice the risk of

heart attack and women who remarried after divorce still had a higher risk of heart

attack than continuously married women.