Heart disease causes one in every four deaths among women, according to the National Institutes of Health. Yet heart disease doesn't get the attention that some other conditions do, such as breast cancer which affects one in eight women.
On March 24, 2016, a study was published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology Imaging which indicated that the risk for heart attacks and strokes in women could be decreased by using mammogram data as a tool for early detection. The research was carried out by a team from Mount Sinai St. Luke's hospital in New York.
Lead author Harvey Hecht said that a mammogram can highlight the amount of calcium in arteries of a woman's breast. This can also detect the calcified plaque in her coronary arteries. A mammogram takes note of calcified tissue, including arterial calcification.
Researcher Dr. Laurie Margolies, who is also the director of breast imaging at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, said that radiologists can see calcium deposits in arteries to the breasts as well.
Records of 292 women were used for this research, to test data from their digital mammograms as well as their separate and unrelated computed tomography, or CT, scans of their chest from within the same 12-month period.
Would indications of breast arterial calcification help to catch coronary artery calcification?
As it turned out, breast arterial calcification detected approximately 70 percent of the incidences of coronary artery calcification.
CT scans indicated that 47.5 percent of the women had signs of calcium buildup in their coronary arteries. Women who were older amongst the group and who had several chronic health conditions were more likely to have calcium buildup.
Large calcium deposits in breast arteries may be early signs of heart disease, according to study authors. This research showed a more direct link between calcifications in the coronary and mammary arteries.
Margolies advises that women ask their radiologists for reports on any calcium buildup in their breast arteries as seen in a mammogram.