The role of fat in assessing breast cancer risk
26 Oct 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 mammograms of postmenopausal women with breast cancer 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 breast cancer risk 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."
Dr Hilary Glover
Scientific Press Officer, BioMed Central
Tel: +44 (0) 20 3192 2370
Notes to Editors
1. 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
Please name the journal in any story you write. If you are writing for the web, please link to the article. All articles are available free of charge, according to BioMed Central’s open access policy.
2. Breast Cancer Research is an international, peer-reviewed online journal, publishing original research, reviews, commentaries and reports. Research articles of exceptional interest are published in all areas of biology and medicine relevant to breast cancer, including normal mammary gland biology, with special emphasis on the genetic, biochemical, and cellular basis of breast cancer. In addition, the journal publishes clinical studies with a biological basis, including Phase I and Phase II trials.