Screening opportunity: Using mammography to predict heart disease in women

Using mammography to detect the presence of arterial calcification in the breast is effective in predicting coronary artery disease risk in female patients, according to results of a study published online in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology: Cardiovascular Imaging and scheduled to be presented at the upcoming ACC.16 conference in Chicago.

Heart disease is the number one cause of mortality among women, but breast cancer may be the most feared disease among the female population. While mammography screening is common among women, regular screening for coronary artery disease is not.

That’s a problem, said lead author Laurie Margolies, MD, and her colleagues from Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, especially with recent research showing a connection between the two diseases.

“The presence or absence of breast arterial calcification (BAC) has been correlated with [coronary artery disease] and with the presence or absence of coronary artery calcium,” they wrote. “A significant relationship would provide the opportunity for large-scale cardiac risk assessment of peri- and post-menopausal women undergoing mammography without additional cost and radiation exposure.”

Margolies and her team set out to investigate how well BAC on digital mammography could predict coronary artery calcification (CAC). They performed digital mammography and CT on 292 women and evaluated BAC and CAC using a scale of 0-12. They then compared and analyzed the results.

Their findings revealed that all of the study participants’ BAC variables were predictive of their respective CAC score.

“The data clearly demonstrate that BAC was significantly and quantitatively associated with CAC. Moreover, it was superior to conventional risk factors,” the researchers wrote. “The opportunity to significantly improve the identification of high-risk women by further simple analysis of a broadly used screening tool should be intensively evaluated in larger patient cohorts.”