Mammograms used to screen women for breast cancer can also indicate the patient's risk for cardiovascular diseases. REUTERS

Mammograms can also indicate the health of the heart by virtue of calcification of breast arteries, according to a study. A close correlation was found in people exhibiting high levels of calcium in breast arteries and coronary arteries.

Calcium in the coronary arteries is known to be an early sign of heart disease. Digital mammograms show up the amount of calcium in the arteries of the breast.

Study coauthor Dr. Jagat Narula from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City and colleagues will report their findings April 3 at the American College of Cardiology annual scientific session in Chicago as well as in JACC: Cardiovascular Imaging.

The team looked at 292 women who underwent both digital mammography and a chest computed tomography (CT) scan. The presence of breast arterial calcium showed a 70 percent match in same women displaying calcium in coronary arteries.

Around 42.5 percent of the women who had calcium in their breast arteries were also those who displayed cardio risk factors like high blood pressure and chronic kidney disease compared to those who didn't have breast arterial calcium.

So also, around 47.5 percent women displaying coronary artery calcium in the CT scans had high blood pressure, chronic kidney disease and diabetes compared with the women who didn't have coronary artery calcium.

Senior author Dr. Laura Margolies told Reuters Health by email that after digital mammography, "Women should ask their radiologists if there was any calcification in their breast arteries. This information can then be given to their primary care doctors to be used in conjunction with standard risk factors to determine if further evaluation (or treatment) would be of benefit."

She however cautioned about so-called false positives, noting that not all breast arterial calcification is indicative of significant cardiovascular disease.