What Do The Terms Necrosis And Comedo Necrosis Mean?

Dr. Norton answers the question: 'What Do Necrosis And Comedo Necrosis Mean?'

ByLarry Norton, M.D., Deputy Physician-in-Chief, Breast Cancer Programs, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center

— -- Question:What do the terms necrosis and comedo necrosis mean?

Answer: The term 'necrosis' refers to cells that are dying. When cells die, they often attract other chemicals in the body, and form something called 'comedo necrosis,' which is basically the residual, leftover dead cells. Comedo necrosis can often attract calcium from the blood and you can form calcium deposits, and that is why when we look at a mammogram and we see little flecks of calcium, we have some element of concern because that can mean that there is comedo necrosis in tissues, which is sometimes indication of the presence of cancer.

Now you can get calcifications when you have DCIS, which is a non-invasive cancer also, but comedo necrosis and attracting calcium is something that we have to pay attention to. If DCIS -- which is non-invasive cancer, cancer that has not spread into the surrounding breast tissue -- has comedo necrosis and attracts calcium, that's an indicator to us that these cells are starting to behave in a more malignant fashion, and those tissues have a greater chance of turning into cancer at a later date, and so we have to take that into account when we plan our therapy.

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