Finding Calcifications After Lumpectomy and Radiation

If you want to see the face of terror, look into the eyes of a woman who has just completed radiation therapy for breast cancer after a lumpectomy — and she is now being told that new calcifications have shown up on her first post-treatment mammogram. She will likely need to be scraped off the ceiling with a big spatula.

Calcifications, which look like tiny specks of salt on the mammogram, are not that unusual. Most women will have them at some point and most of the time they are benign calcium deposits in the breast tissue.

Once a woman has been diagnosed with breast cancer, though, her risk of developing it again increases and her medical history will now dictate that all her future mammograms be examined with a critical eye. So if calcifications are found in this situation, she will probably have to undergo additional imaging and possibly even a biopsy to rule out a return of the cancer.

It could also turn out that these calcifications were there all along but simply weren't detected until now. Breast cancer patients are often told that if they have calcifications elsewhere on their films when breast cancer has been diagnosed, these calcifications then become "guilty by association" and need to be closely inspected by means of a biopsy sample of the tissue. Each time new ones appear, expect the same drill.

Does this mean that a woman should forego lumpectomy with radiation and simply have a mastectomy instead? Some women opt for this because they are worriers and the thought of having high anxiety every time they get a mammogram is more than they can handle. Others know that most of the time these calcifications will be false alarms. They choose to endure this temporary misery and they keep things in perspective while going through it.

But that's them. What matters most is what you would do.

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