Saturday, May 01, 2004

Breast Calcifications: What’s Good, What’s Bad and What’s What?! (Benign Breast Calcification)

Assessing and demonstrating clearly an area of concern on our images is a long way from diagnosing disease. What is missed or obscured on our clinical images is not analyzed by the Radiologist. Therefore it is essential that we recognize a possible concern and know how to demonstrate it clearly.

Calcifications arise in the breast as a natural process of aging and can be grossly benign. Calcifications can also gather in the ductal paths of the breast parenchyma due to an atypical proliferation of dead or dying cells caused by the presence of some active pathology. To demonstrate breast calcification we first must appreciate their presence and then comprehend their characteristics.

Characteristics of Benign Breast Calcifications:









Quite Large

Usually @ .5mm and Larger


Uniform highly dense

Dense with Lucent Areas of Fat


Scattered, Surrounding a Smooth Mass,

Following a vessel

or Embedded in the Skin


Smooth, Rounded, Easily Seen and Followed

Number of Calcifications

Usually not more than 5 in a Group

Always separate and easily Counted

Position in Relation to Mass

Either centered in the Core of a Smooth Mass

Gathering Around its Edge

Benign Calcifications:

Benign breast Calcifications Include:

1. Blunt Duct Adenosis

2. Sclerosing Adenosis

3. Fibrosis

4. Arterial Calcification

5. Intra/Peri Ductal Plasma Cell Mastitis

6. Sebaceous, Skin Calcifications

7. Benign Papilloma

8. Eggshell Calcified Galactocele or Oil Cysts

9. Calcified Fibroadenomas

BLUNT DUCT ADENOSIS: Shows a fat for-shortened Terminal Duct Lobular Unit with clusters of calcifications at the base of the ductules

SCLEROSING ADENOSIS: Shows a long spidery elongated TLDU with rows of calcifications strewn along the length of the ductules

FIBROSIS: Shows a fat swollen badly misshapen TLDU with large smooth calcifications filling the distal ends of the ductules


1. Artery

2. Calcified Internal Arterial Walls


1. Terminal Duct Lobular Units

2. Branching Ducts

3. Intraductal Calcifications Stretching through the Length of the Ducts


1. Branching Ducts

2. Periductal Calcifications Coating the walls of the Duct


1. Skin Pore or Sebaceous Gland

2. Tiny Smooth Calcification


1. Epithial Cell Layer

2. Interductal Papilloma

3. Scattered inter-lesion calcifications

4. Main or Large Branching duct

EGGSHELL TYPE CALCIFICATIONS: Very dense calcifications surrounding a central core mass. If the central core is OPAQUE, the mass very likely is a cyst with a calcified wall, a fibroadenoma or a Phase 1 galactocele. If the central core is RADIOLUCENT, the mass very likely is a calcified lipoma, an oil cyst, fat necrosis or a Phase 3 galactocele.

CALCIFIED FIBROADENOMA: Benign fibroadenoma can calcify in several ways.

Sub capsular calcifications are very dense inside layer of calcification coating the edge of the mass. These can appear linear or eggshell like. Fibroadenomas calcifying with central dense or mixed fat/calcified centers very often appear like pieces of sponge toffee or popcorn.


All calcifications seen on our breast images should be noted, located and well demonstrated by today’s Mammographer. We should be well versed in the procedures of clarification and follow-up for such abnormalities. Tangential views will easily and efficiently locate calcifications for the Radiologist. Magnification and coned compression are the primary techniques used to further analyze calcifications. These views afford a clearer appreciation of the morphology and distribution of the calcifications thus allowing the Radiologist to make informed diagnostic decisions.

The Mammographer within today’s modern team oriented department must have the advanced positioning and clinical skills to ensure the area of concern is appropriately imaged, clearly seen and able to be characterized by the Radiologist.

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