Mammography has helped save hundreds of thousands of lives through early diagnosis of breast cancer. Using the test to also screen for heart disease might someday help save many thousands more.
Besides revealing masses that may be tumors, digital mammography can reveal buildup of calcium in the arteries in the breast. Early studies have found that breast arterial calcification (BAC) signals an elevated risk for heart attack, stroke, and other cardiovascular consequences.
Research has begun to reveal a link between calcium buildup in the breast and coronary artery calcification, an established measure that helps predict cardiovascular disease risk. A recent study looked at records for 278 middle-age and older women who had both a mammogram and coronary calcium test within a one-year window. Almost one-third of the women had BAC, and 7 percent were suffering from heart failure.
Even after accounting for age, diabetes, and high blood pressure, women with BAC had 2.2 times the odds of having or developing heart failure.
Researchers are now reviewing additional mammograms from women diagnosed with cardiovascular conditions related to arterial plaque buildup, such as coronary artery disease. That effort may fuel future studies on BAC and heart health.
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