The aim of this study was to investigate sex differences in the prevalence, extent, and association of coronary artery calcium (CAC) and thoracic aorta calcium (TAC) scores with cardiovascular mortality in a population eligible for lung screening. CAC and TAC scores derived from chest computed tomography (CT) might be useful biomarkers for individualized cardiovascular disease prevention and could be especially relevant in high-risk populations such as heavy smokers. Therefore, it is important to know the prevalence of arterial calcifications in male and female heavy smokers, and if there are differences in the predictive value calcifications carry. We performed a nested case-control study with 5,718 participants of the CT arm of the NLST (National Lung Screening Trial). Prevalence and extent of CAC and TAC were resampled to the full cohort to provide unbiased estimates of the typical calcium burden of male and female heavy smokers. Weighted Cox proportional hazards regression was used to assess differences in the association of CAC and TAC scores with all-cause and cardiovascular mortality. CAC was substantially more common and more severe in men (prevalence: 81% vs. 60%; median volume: 104 mm³ vs.12 mm³). Women had CAC comparable to that of men who were 10 years younger. TAC was equally common in men and women, with a tendency to be more pronounced in women (prevalence: 92% vs. 93%; median volume: 388 mm³ vs. 404 mm³). Both types of calcification were associated with increased cardiovascular and all-cause mortality. TAC scores improved the prediction of coronary heart disease mortality over CAC in men, but not in women. In both sexes, TAC, but not CAC, was associated with cardiovascular mortality other than coronary heart disease. CAC develops later in women, whereas TAC develops equally in both sexes. CAC is strongly associated with coronary heart disease, whereas TAC is especially associated with extracardiac vascular mortality in either sex.
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