Researchers zero in on new way to determine breast cancer severity

Small calcium mineral deposits known as microcalcifications could reveal the progression of breast cancer, according to a recent study led by researchers at Ithaca, N.Y.-based Cornell University.

The study, published Feb. 22 in Science Advances, found microcalcifications can occur in cancerous and benign tumors and are easy to pick up in mammograms. In some cases, the presence of microcalcification can indicate the presence of breast cancer.

"Usually after the initial mammogram, microcalcifications are largely ignored. And what we're saying is we can look beyond the resolution of the mammogram, at the microscopic and chemical level, and get more information from these microcalcifications," co-senior author Lara Estroff, PhD, professor of materials science and engineering in Cornell Engineering, said in a Feb. 22 Cornell news release. "We've gained a unique insight into a pathological mineral that may have important implications for disease."

The research did not indicate if the microcalcifications form before the cancer develops or because of it, but the findings show a correlation with disease severity. The researchers said they are hopeful the findings may also illuminate calcifications in other types of cancer, such as thyroid and ovarian cancer, according to the release.

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