Heart disease kills more women each year than breast cancer. And yet, many women are not as aware of their heart risk factors as men are of theirs.
Now, new research suggests a new possible tool that could help women find out about heart disease risk early.
And it is a test that many of them are already getting. Namely a mammogram.
On a digital mammogram, you can see some white spots that aren’t cancer. They’re calcium build-up in breast tissue. You can also see little white tubes. That’s calcium in breast arteries.
“We radiologists have seen these for years and mentioned in reports, but many times they weren’t acted upon,” said Dr. Marc Inciardi, a radiologist at the University of Kansas Cancer Center.
Researchers wondered if calcium in breast arteries is a sign that a woman also has calcium in heart arteries. That can be an early indicator of heart disease. Of the women who had calcifications in their breast arteries, about 70 percent also had it on CT scans of their heart arteries.
“It is an additional significant risk factor that needs to be taken into account with their cholesterol, their blood pressure, their weight and everything else,” said Dr. Inciardi.
That means mammograms may be another way to screen for heart disease.
“I think we’re all gonna at least be talking about this a lot to decide how best to report this, perhaps at what age we report this,” the radiologist said.
The link between breast and heart artery calcification was strongest in women under 60 who may not be thinking about their risk for heart disease.
“It is a signal to scratch your head about what’s going on, but not necessarily a signal that you’ve got something really bad,” said Dr. Charles Porter, a cardiologist at the University of Kansas Hospital.
The heart specialist said it doesn’t mean a woman is going to have a heart attack.
“This is a clue that maybe you have reached a point where it is time to cut the carbs, tighten the belt, get rid of the smoking,” Dr. Porter said.
And to think it comes from a mammogram.
“This is one more benefit of mammography, and it doesn’t cost anybody anything,” Dr. Inciardi said.
The study is in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. Researchers emphasize that their findings warrant further evaluation and a larger study. This one included about 300 women.