Dense Breasts May Be a Risk Factor for Breast Cancer
cancer risk assessment and prevention should start much earlier in life
than it currently does, say Canadian researchers who examined breast
cancer risk factors in young women. The study was published in the
medical journal The Lancet Oncology. The study of 400 women, ages
15 to 39, and their mothers, found that breast tissue composition in
young women may be associated with their risk for breast cancer in
middle age and older.
"It is known that the breast is most susceptible to the effects of
carcinogens at early ages. Our findings suggest that differences
in breast tissue composition in early life may be a potential mechanism
for this increased susceptibility," says lead researcher Dr. Norman
Boyd, of the Campbell Family Institute for Breast Cancer Research,
Toronto. "By identifying the environmental and genetic factors
that influence breast tissue composition early in life, we may be able
to develop safe and effective methods of prevention," he says.
Starting Prevention Earlier than Later
In this study, the researchers looked at the amount of dense breast
tissue (mammographic density, or MD), which varies considerably among
women, and is a significant risk factor for breast cancer in middle-aged
and older women.
Experts know that the risk of breast cancer increases as MD
increases. However, little has been known about the development of
MD early in life or how the MD of young women is related to their
height, weight, age, and their mother's MD.
The study authors conclude that a high degree of mammographic density in
middle age, when it is a strong risk factor for breast cancer, may arise
from the subset of the population with the greatest amount of
fibro-glandular tissue in early life. This is when susceptibility
to potential carcinogens is greatest.
"Interventions directed at the prevention of breast cancer may therefore
be more effective if they are started in early life rather than adult
life," Dr. Boyd says.
Harder to Detect Cancer in Dense Breasts
For years, researchers have known that breast density is almost as
important as age in predicting who will develop breast cancer. But
now they are discovering how the density of a woman's breast tissue can
also predict how she will respond to cancer treatment and whether her
cancer will recur.
Another group of researchers found that changes in breast density during
treatment with tamoxifen, a drug used to lower breast cancer risk, help
predict how well the drug is working.
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