New Study Shows Mammograms May Also Detect Heart Disease

Nurse Assisting Patient Undergoing Mammogram

A new study, scheduled to be presented at the American College of Cardiology’s Scientific Session in early April, is making headlines for its groundbreaking finding: digital mammograms appear to detect early signs of heart disease as well as breast cancer.

Here’s how it works: calcium buildup in the coronary arteries (the arteries supplying blood to the heart) is an early warning sign of heart disease. That’s been well-known for a long time. This buildup is also called CAC, or coronary arterial calcification, and can be detected by a special coronary calcium scan.

Calcium buildups can also occur in the arteries leading to the breasts; this is known as BAC, or breast arterial calcification. BAC has always been readily visible in digital mammograms.

The new finding from this study? The presence of calcium buildup in the breast’s arteries is a very likely indicator that there is also calcium buildup in the coronary arteries. In fact, BAC was equally as accurate at predicting CAC as standard warning signs like high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

This means that detecting calcium buildup in the breast’s arteries can lead to an even earlier diagnosis (and thus a better outcome) of heart disease—simply by examining mammograms that many women are already receiving every year.

Essentially, this means we can now look at digital mammograms as a two-for-one screening tool, able to detect early signs of both breast cancer and heart disease.

“By adding no cost, no radiation and very little time, we can find calcification in the vessels,” Dr. Laurie Margolies, the study’s lead author and director of breast imaging at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, told HealthDay News. “This is potentially practice-changing in how radiologists read and report mammography. It’s a revolutionary way to assess risk.”

For The Maurer Foundation, this finding only reinforces our ongoing recommendation that mammograms are a crucial component to women’s health and should continue to be administered annually, beginning at age 40 for most women.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States, and much like breast cancer, detecting its presence early leads to far better outcomes. In fact, heart disease and breast cancer share many of the same lifestyle risk factors, including obesity, alcohol use, smoking, and a poor diet.

Now that we know mammograms are even more life-saving than we previously understood, it’s especially important never to miss one! Sign up for our mammogram reminder service, or learn more about how mammograms detect breast cancer.