Abnormal glucose and lipids levels may impact survival after breast cancer (BC) diagnosis, but their association to other causes of mortality such as cardiovascular (CV) disease may result in a competing risk problem.
We assessed serum glucose, triglycerides (TG) and total cholesterol (TC) measured prospectively 3 months to 3 years before diagnosis in 1798 Swedish women diagnosed with any type of BC between 1985 and 1999. In addition to using Cox regression, we employed latent class proportional hazards models to capture any heterogeneity of associations between these markers and BC death. The latter method was extended to include the primary outcome (BC death) and competing outcomes (CV death and death from other causes), allowing latent class-specific hazard estimation for cause-specific deaths.
A lack of association between prediagnostic glucose, TG or TC with BC death was observed with Cox regression. With latent class proportional hazards model, two latent classes (Class I and II) were suggested. Class I, comprising the majority (81.5 %) of BC patients, had an increased risk of BC death following higher TG levels (HR: 1.87, 95 % CI: 1.01–3.45 for every log TG increase). Lower overall survival was observed in Class II, but no association for BC death was found. On the other hand, TC positively corresponded to CV death in Class II, and similarly, glucose to death from other causes.
Addressing cohort heterogeneity in relation to BC survival is important in understanding the relationship between metabolic markers and cause-specific death in presence of competing outcomes.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s12885-015-1928-z) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.