Mammographic Density and Breast Cancer Risk

A Mediation Analysis

Megan S. Rice; Kimberly A. Bertrand; Tyler J. VanderWeele; Bernard A. Rosner; Xiaomei Liao; Hans-Olov Adami; Rulla M. Tamimi


Breast Cancer Res. 2016;18(94) 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


Background: High mammographic density (MD) is a strong risk factor for breast cancer. However, it is unclear whether high MD is an intermediate phenotype or whether breast cancer risk factors influence breast cancer risk and MD independently.

Methods: Our study population included 1290 invasive breast cancer cases and 3422 controls from the Nurses' Health Studies. We estimated the percent of the total association between the risk factor and breast cancer that was mediated by MD.

Results: In both pre- and postmenopausal women, the association between history of biopsy-confirmed benign breast disease and risk was partially mediated by percent MD (percent mediated (PM) = 17 %, p < 0.01 and PM = 33 %, p = 0.04, respectively). In premenopausal women, the associations between early life body size (adolescent somatotype and BMI at age 18) and breast cancer risk were substantially mediated by percent MD (PM = 73 %, p = 0.05 and PM = 82 %, p = 0.04, respectively). In postmenopausal women, the proportion of the associations of childhood somatotype and adolescent somatotype that were mediated by percent MD were lower (PM = 26 %, p = 0.01 for both measures). Hormone therapy use at mammogram was significantly mediated by percent MD in postmenopausal women (PM = 22 %, p < 0.01). Associations with other risk factors, such as age at menarche or family history of breast cancer, were not mediated by percent MD.

Conclusions: Percent MD partially mediated some of the associations between risk factors and breast cancer, though the magnitude varied by risk factor and menopausal status. These findings suggest that high MD may be an intermediate in some biological pathways for breast cancer development.