We all know mammograms can detect early breast cancer, but did you know it could also predict early heart disease?
Along with detecting a lump, mammograms can also detect calcium deposits in the blood vessels of the breast, an indicator of early heart disease. Calcium deposits detected on mammograms correlated to a significantly increased risk of stroke, according to research.
What does this mean? Not only are mammograms an essential tool for diagnosing breast cancer but also they can be a useful in screening for heart disease and stroke as well. “It’s beautiful that you can start to pick up the risk on the mammogram,” said Arvind Ahuja, a neurosurgeon and co-director of the stroke center at Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. “(The mammogram) can serve two purposes.”
Once the calcium deposits are discovered, doctors can screen for and address other risk factors, such as cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels, and create a treatment plan to limit the risk of stroke and heart attack.
What should you do?
Have regular mammograms. Surprisingly, only half the women who should have annual mammograms actually get them—even when their insurance pays for them. Having previous tests to compare can be essential in picking up small changes. Talk to your doctor to determine how often you should be screened.
Ask your doctor specifically if your mammogram shows calcium deposits in the blood vessels of your breast, it may not be something he or she is in the habit of reporting.
Schedule a cardiac and stroke screening if you do have deposits and discuss ways to decrease your risk.
Women who have had open-heart surgery or other surgery in the chest area need to be especially consistent with mammograms because scar tissue can mask a lump. Even if you are not at the recommended age, discuss with your doctor the need to have a yearly mammogram to be safe. Scars and increased sensitivity may make a mammogram more challenging; discuss these issues with the mammogram technician before you begin.