High breast density, a strong predictor of breast cancer may be determined early in life. Childhood anthropometric factors have been related to breast cancer and breast density, but rarely simultaneously. We examined whether mammographic density (MD) mediates an association of birth weight, childhood body mass index (BMI), and height with the risk of breast cancer.
13,572 women (50 to 69 years) in the Copenhagen mammography screening program (1991 through 2001) with childhood anthropometric measurements in the Copenhagen School Health Records Register were followed for breast cancer until 2010. With logistic and Cox regression models, we investigated associations among birth weight, height, and BMI at ages 7 to 13 years with MD (mixed/dense or fatty) and breast cancer, respectively.
8,194 (60.4%) women had mixed/dense breasts, and 716 (5.3%) developed breast cancer. Childhood BMI was significantly inversely related to having mixed/dense breasts at all ages, with odds ratios (95% confidence intervals) ranging from 0.69 (0.66 to 0.72) at age 7 to 0.56 (0.53 to 0.58) at age 13, per one-unit increase in z-score. No statistically significant associations were detected between birth weight and MD, height and MD, or birth weight and breast cancer risk. BMI was inversely associated with breast cancer, with hazard ratios of 0.91 (0.83 to 0.99) at age 7 and 0.92 (0.84 to 1.00) at age 13, whereas height was positively associated with breast cancer risk (age 7, 1.06 (0.98 to 1.14) and age 13, 1.08 (1.00 to 1.16)). After additional adjustment for MD, associations of BMI with breast cancer diminished (age 7, 0.97 (0.88 to 1.06) and age 13, 1.01 (0.93 to 1.11)), but remained with height (age 7, 1.06 (0.99 to 1.15) and age 13, 1.09 (1.01 to 1.17)).
Among women 50 years and older, childhood body fatness was inversely associated with the breast cancer risk, possibly via a mechanism mediated by MD, at least partially. Childhood tallness was positively associated with breast cancer risk, seemingly via a pathway independent of MD. Birth weight was not associated with MD or breast cancer in this age group.