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Breast density and mode of detection in relation to breast cancer specific survival: a cohort study

Åsa Olsson1*, Hanna Sartor2, Signe Borgquist3, Sophia Zackrisson4 and Jonas Manjer14

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Surgery, Lund University, Skåne University Hospital, SE- 205 02 Malmö, Sweden

2 Diagnostic Radiology, Lund University, Diagnostic Center for Imaging and Functional Medicine, Skåne University Hospital Malmö, Malmö, Sweden

3 Department of Oncology, Lund University, Skåne University Hospital, Lund, Sweden

4 Department of Plastic surgery, Lund University, Skåne University Hospital, Malmö, Sweden

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BMC Cancer 2014, 14:229  doi:10.1186/1471-2407-14-229

Published: 28 March 2014



The aim of this study was to examine breast density in relation to breast cancer specific survival and to assess if this potential association was modified by mode of detection. An additional aim was to study whether the established association between mode of detection and survival is modified by breast density.


The study included 619 cases from a prospective cohort, The Malmö Diet and Cancer Study. Breast density estimated qualitatively, was analyzed in relation to breast cancer death, in non-symptomatic and symptomatic women, using Cox regression calculating hazard ratios (HR) with 95% confidence intervals. Adjustments were made in several steps for; diagnostic age, tumour size, axillary lymph node involvement, grade, hormone receptor status, body mass index (baseline), diagnostic period, use of hormone replacement therapy at diagnosis and mode of detection. Detection mode in relation to survival was analyzed stratified for breast density. Differences in HR following different adjustments were analyzed by Freedmans%.


After adjustment for age and other prognostic factors, women with dense, as compared to fatty breasts, had an increased risk of breast cancer death, HR 2.56:1.07-6.11, with a statistically significant trend over density categories, p = 0.04. In the stratified analysis, the effect was less pronounced in non-symptomatic women, HR 2.04:0.49-8.49 as compared to symptomatic, HR 3.40:1.06-10.90. In the unadjusted model, symptomatic women had a higher risk of breast cancer death, regardless of breast density. Analyzed by Freedmans%, age, tumour size, lymph nodes, grade, diagnostic period, ER and PgR explained 55.5% of the observed differences in mortality between non-symptomatic and symptomatic cases. Additional adjustment for breast density caused only a minor change.


High breast density at diagnosis may be associated with decreased breast cancer survival. This association appears to be stronger in women with symptomatic cancers but breast density could not explain differences in survival according to detection mode.