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Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research article

Population attributable risk of breast cancer in white women associated with immediately modifiable risk factors

Christina A Clarke*, David M Purdie and Sally L Glaser

Author Affiliations

Northern California Cancer Center, Fremont, California, USA and Department of Health Research and Policy, Stanford University Medical Center, Stanford, California, USA

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BMC Cancer 2006, 6:170  doi:10.1186/1471-2407-6-170

Published: 27 June 2006



Estrogen/progestin replacement therapy (EPRT), alcohol consumption, physical activity, and breast-feeding duration differ from other factors associated with breast cancer in being immediately modifiable by the individual, thereby representing attractive targets for future breast cancer prevention efforts. To justify such efforts, it is vital to quantify the potential population-level impacts on breast cancer considering population variations in behavior prevalence, risk estimate, and baseline incidence.


For each of these four factors, we calculated population attributable risk percents (PARs) using population-based survey (2001) and cancer registry data (1998–2002) for 41 subpopulations of white, non-Hispanic California women aged 40–79 years, and ranges of relative risk (RR) estimates from the literature.


Using a single RR estimate, subpopulation PARs ranged from 2.5% to 5.6% for hormone use, from 0.0% to 6.1% for recent consumption of >= 2 alcoholic drinks daily, and 4.6% to 11.0% for physical inactivity. Using a range of RR estimates, PARs were 2–11% for EPRT use, 1–20% for alcohol consumption and 2–15% for physical inactivity. Subpopulation data were unavailable for breastfeeding, but PARs using published RR estimates ranged from 2% to 11% for lifetime breastfeeding >= 31 months. Thus, of 13,019 breast cancers diagnosed annually in California, as many as 1,432 attributable to EPRT use, 2,604 attributable to alcohol consumption, 1,953 attributable to physical inactivity, and 1,432 attributable to never breastfeeding might be avoidable.


The relatively feasible lifestyle changes of discontinuing EPRT use, reducing alcohol consumption, increasing physical activity, and lengthening breastfeeding duration could lower population breast cancer incidence substantially.