The role of fat in assessing breast cancer risk

October 26, 2011

It is known that a high proportion of dense breast tissue, as seen with a mammogram, is associated with a high risk of breast cancer. But the role of non-dense fat tissue in the breast is less clear. New research published in BioMed Central's open access journal Breast Cancer Research separates the breast cancer risks associated with dense, fibroglandular tissue, and fat, and shows that large areas of either are independently associated with an increased risk.

The of postmenopausal women with were compared to controls without cancer. The study used sophisticated computer software to read the films to reduce reader error (or intuition). The software simply compared dense versus non-dense tissue and was not looking for specific irregularities.

Not surprisingly older women and women with a higher BMI have a higher percentage of non-dense tissue. The women with breast cancer tended to have a larger area of dense tissue and a larger area of non-dense tissue so that the biggest risk was for women with the largest areas of both. However this is not necessarily reflected in breast size because the risk associated with fat, though significant, is lower than the risk associated with fibroglandular tissue. Consequently women with a smaller amount of dense tissue have a lower risk than those with more dense tissue for the same breast size.

Dr Carla van Gils, from the University Medical Centre Utrecht, who lead the research explained, "Fat tissue is known to produce the hormones such as oestrogen which are known to promote the growth of ER positive cancer. However it seems that it is the local fat tissue which is important to at not just general body fat (as measured using BMI). Consequently it may be important to consider both types of tissue when assessing breast cancer risk."

More information: Mammographic density and breast cancer risk: the role of the fat surrounding the fibroglandular tissue, Mariëtte Lokate, Petra H.M. Peeters, Linda M. Peelen, Gerco Haars, Wouter B. Veldhuis and Carla H. van Gils, Breast Cancer Research (in press)

Related Stories

Breast density tied to specific types of breast cancer

July 27, 2011

Women with breasts that appear dense on mammograms are at a higher risk of breast cancer and their tumors are more likely to have certain aggressive characteristics than women with less dense breasts, according to a study ...

Recommended for you

New treatment options for a fatal leukemia

July 27, 2015

In industrialized countries like in Europe, acute lymphoblastic leukemia is the most common form of cancer in children. An international research consortium lead by pediatric oncologists from the Universities of Zurich and ...

Modified DNA building blocks are cancer's Achilles heel

July 22, 2015

In studying how cells recycle the building blocks of DNA, Ludwig Cancer Research scientists have discovered a potential therapeutic strategy for cancer. They found that normal cells have highly selective mechanisms to ensure ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.