9 Apr 2016

Mammograms as cardiac screening tool

From This Way Up, 1:30 pm on 9 April 2016

Mammograms are X-rays of the breast that can show up any abnormalities in the tissue. Here in New Zealand they're offered free to most women aged 45 to 69 as a screening tool for breast cancer.

But could a mammogram be telling us a whole lot more? Like whether a woman has heart disease - a condition that in the US is 7 times more likely to kill a woman than breast cancer.

Breast scan image

Breast scan image Photo: (Supplied)

That's the key finding from a paper published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology's Cardiovascular Imaging journal by a team of researchers including Laurie Margolies of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York.

She says that for little extra cost or effort, a mammogram can become an effective tool to measure a woman's cardiac health, showing calcification or plaquing in the arteries bringing oxygenated blood to the breasts.

Meanwhile, here in New Zealand, the National Screening Unit said it was not currently considering extending the BreastScreen Aotearoa programme to include reporting on women's cardiac health.

The Clinical Leader of BreastScreen Aotearoa, Marli Gregory, says:

"The National Screening Unit does continually look at new research findings. There would need to be a large body of international evidence of breast screening programmes including screening for cardiac risk which result in improved outcomes for women before we could consider any changes to the New Zealand breast screening programme."