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Thursday, 4 April, 2002, 00:09 GMT 01:09 UK
Breast screening 'can also check arteries'
Breast scans are used to check for cancer
Breast scans are used to check for cancer
Screening women's breasts to check for tumours can also detect signs of hardening of the arteries, scientists have found.

A study using mammograms to check women's breast arteries found hormone replacement therapy can halve rates of breast artery calcification (BAC).

BAC can indicate vascular disease such as diabetes and high blood pressure, and be a risk factor for cardiovascular heart attack and stroke.

Researchers who carried out the study said detection of the condition on mammograms could potentially be used by GPs and nurses to estimate who was at risk of developing cardiovascular problems.

HRT benefit

Researchers from the department of radiology at Freeman Hospital in Newcastle-upon-Tyne looked at mammograms for 4,400 women screened for breast abnormalities.

All the women were aged between 49 and 66, and they were asked whether they used, or had used hormone replacement therapy (HRT).

BAC was seen in 530 women.

In those taking HRT, the rate of calcification was just under 8% while in those who had never used it, the rate was almost twice as high at 14%.

The researchers say breast calcification dies increase with age, ranging from around 10% of women in their late 40s to almost half of those in their mid-60s.

But they say that even allowing for that increase, not using HRT seems to increase a woman's risk of developing the condition.

'Dual purpose'

Dr Julie Cox, who led the research, told BBC News Online it was interesting that mammograms, carried out to detect cancer, could also provide indications of heart health.

She said: "I'm not sure we're at the stage where we can use it as a dual purpose test.

"But there is a potential for people working in primary care to look at patient's risk factors as a result of that information.

"That's probably where this could be used."

She added the findings gave "further support to the accumulated evidence that HRT is beneficial in reducing the incidence of cardiovascular disease."

A spokeswoman for the British Heart Foundation said that if mammograms could also be used to check artery health, it would be an "additional bonus".

She added HRT was not suitable for every woman, but said: "It appears to be that HRT seems to help improve the chances of women at a high-risk of coronary heart disease."

The research is published in the Journal of Medical Screening.

See also:

29 Mar 02 | Health
Gene determines HRT heart benefit
14 Dec 01 | Health
Cancer risk prompts HRT call
23 Jul 01 | Health
HRT heart treatment 'caution'
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