- Digital mammograms can not only detect early signs of breast cancer, but also identify early indications of heart disease by revealing a buildup of calcium in the breast arteries, known as breast arterial calcification (BAC).
- Research shows that women who have BAC have a 51% higher risk of developing heart disease or suffering a stroke, making it a valuable additional piece of information for determining heart disease risks, but it should not overshadow traditional diagnosis procedures.
- Adoption of a healthy lifestyle, including a heart-healthy diet, avoiding smoking, and regular exercise is crucial. For those with BAC, it’s important to also consider treatment options for other risk factors like cholesterol, blood pressure, and diabetes.
- Even in the absence of BAC, women should still address heart disease risk factors due to the complexity of the disease. A plant-based diet and active lifestyle can help to optimize heart health.
- Knowledge and awareness of BAC can be a lifesaving piece of information. More research is necessary to understand if BAC could serve as a powerful tool to guide heart disease prevention in the future.
Digital mammograms are not only instrumental in detecting early signs of breast cancer but they can also identify early indications of heart disease. Through these scans, a buildup of calcium in the breast arteries also known as breast arterial calcification (BAC) can be detected. Notably, these white areas are suggestive of arterial hardening which is typically associated with aging, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and inflammation.
How One Test Could Detect Two Major Health Risks
Dr. Carlos Iribarren, a prominent research scientist from the Northern California Division of Research, at Kaiser Permanent, pointed out, “A single universally accepted test can be immensely useful in determining the two leading causes of death in women.”
His study involved a detailed review of health records of more than 5,000 women between the ages of 60 to 79, who had gone through one or more screening mammograms. Notably, none of these women had a history of heart disease or breast cancer at the beginning of the study. The follow-up period for the study lasted approximately 6.5 years.
Mammograms and Heart Disease
The results indicated that women who had breast arterial calcifications showcased a 51% higher risk of developing heart disease or suffering a stroke. Additionally, women with calcification were 23% more likely to suffer from any heart or vascular disorder.
However, BAC alone doesn’t overshadow the importance of other risk factors for heart disease. Dr. Carlos Iribarren emphasized, “BAC should be incorporated as additional information but it is not intended to replace other diagnosis procedures for determining heart disease risks.”
The Importance of a Holistic Approach towards Health
Healthy lifestyle adherence, including a heart-healthy diet, avoiding smoking, and regular exercise, are crucial, especially for women with low risks. For those with intermediate risks, the presence of BAC should trigger conversations about treatment options for risk factors like cholesterol, blood pressure, and diabetes.
Though not mandatory, the inclusion of BAC levels in radiological reports is highly recommended. Dr. Iribarren suggested “women overwhelmingly want this information to be shared with them and their primary care doctors.”
Given the routine nature of mammogram screenings, there are no added costs or radiation exposures associated with acquiring this information. The detailed findings were published in the medical journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Imaging.
Dr. Natalie Avella Cameron, a faculty at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, shed light on the future potential of BAC. She stated, “If future research proves that BAC enhances heart disease risk prediction, it could serve as a powerful tool to guide heart disease prevention amongst millions of women who undergo routine mammography.”
However, absence of calcium buildup in the breast arteries doesn’t render a woman immune to heart disease. It is essential to address heart disease risk factors such as obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes, and discuss lifestyle modifications. A plant-based diet and maintaining an active lifestyle could greatly optimize heart health, irrespective of BAC status.
The Significance of BAC Awareness
Dr. Nieca Goldberg, a prominent cardiologist and medical director at Atria New York City, reaffirmed the significance of being aware of BAC status as it could be a lifesaving piece of information. Heart disease, the leading cause of death amongst women, is ironically less of a concern for many women as compared to breast cancer. Goldberg added, “Women’s health issues are not isolated. A test for breast cancer can give us clues to heart disease risk too.” Goldberg also highlighted that calcium buildup in arteries is a clear indicator of early-stage heart disease.
The impact of any intervention on calcifications remains unclear. However, adopting healthier lifestyle habits like exercising, quitting smoking, managing diabetes, eating healthier, and regulating cholesterol and blood pressure significantly reduces the risk of heart attacks.
To further understand the risk for heart attacks and strokes, visit Go Red for Women.