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Could your mammogram help your heart?

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March 21, 2022—We know that mammograms save lives. They can help find breast cancer early, when it's easier to treat. But mammograms may be able to help in other ways too. New research shows that routine mammograms can also help detect some risks for heart disease.

Beyond breast cancer

Mammograms are x-rays of the breast. They're used to look for signs of breast cancer.

But these images may also reveal information about cardiovascular health. When radiologists review mammograms, they often see signs of breast arterial calcification, or calcium buildup in the breast's arterial wall.

This type of calcification is not thought to be connected to breast cancer. But women who have it are at greater risk for heart disease and stroke, according to new research published in an American Heart Association journal.

Researchers reviewed the records of 5,000 women between the ages of 60 and 79 who had at least one digital mammogram. The women had not been diagnosed with breast cancer or heart disease before their mammogram.

In the years after their screening, women whose mammogram showed calcium buildup:

  • Had a 51% higher risk for heart disease and stroke.
  • Were 23% more likely to have cardiovascular disease of any type, including heart failure and peripheral artery disease.

Screenings save lives

Mammograms are effective. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, mammograms can help find breast cancer up to three years before a lump can be felt. That's reason enough to stay up-to-date on this valuable screening.

But the study shows that mammograms may also help women and their doctors recognize their risks for heart disease—the No. 1 cause of death among women in the U.S., according to the AHA. If your mammogram shows calcium buildup, that might be a good opportunity to ask your provider about your risk for cardiovascular disease.

Schedule your screening

If you delayed your mammogram during the pandemic, now's a great time to catch up. And you can take steps to make it more comfortable—and effective. Make the most of your next mammogram by following the tips in this handy guide.

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