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What your mammogram may have to reveal about your heart’s health

Heart Health, Women's Care
Feb 4, 2021

Ladies, we all know the importance of annual mammograms. Finding breast cancer early is proven to save lives.

But in addition to detecting cancer, mammograms also can play a role in women’s heart health, says Dr. Daniel O’Mara, radiologist with Savannah Chatham Imaging.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death among women in the United States. Research suggests that mammograms could help assess a woman’s risk for heart disease and her need for preventative measures such as changes in diet and exercise.

“Mammograms have an emerging role in providing women with a better picture of their heart health with no additional cost or radiation,” Dr. O’Mara says. Dr. Daniel O'Mara

The American Cancer Society recommends annual breast cancer screening for women over the age of 40, or sooner, if there’s a history of breast cancer in your family. Mammograms are low-dose x-rays primarily used to detect breast cancer.

So how does that help your heart?

“Incidentally, these x-rays can also show the presence of calcification within the breast arteries,” Dr. O’Mara explains. “Research has shown that women with breast arterial calcification are more likely to have or to develop heart conditions like coronary artery disease and heart failure.”

Breast arterial calcification is the buildup of calcium within the wall of the vessels that supply blood to the breasts. This type of calcification results in stiffening of the vessels and is associated with aging, diabetes and chronic kidney disease, says Dr. O’Mara.

The likelihood of seeing breast arterial calcification increases as you age. Dr. O’Mara says calcifications are seen in about 10 percent of women in their 40s and that increases to about 50 percent of women in their 80s.

Yes, heart disease, known as the ‘silent killer,’ is the leading cause of death for women in the United States. However, if a radiologist discovers breast arterial calcification on your mammogram, there is no need to panic. Just like a mammogram helps find cancer early, this too can help you and your doctor develop a plan to reduce your risk of heart disease or heart attack. Conservative methods may include improving your diet and exercise habits or taking recommended medications. Your physician can refer you to a cardiologist for further screening and treatment.

 

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