Mammographic density phenotypes and risk of breast cancer: a meta-analysis

Andreas Pettersson, Rebecca E Graff, Giske Ursin, Isabel Dos Santos Silva, Valerie McCormack, Laura Baglietto, Celine Vachon, Marije F Bakker, Graham G Giles, Kee Seng Chia, Kamila Czene, Louise Eriksson, Per Hall, Mikael Hartman, Ruth M L Warren, Greg Hislop, Anna M Chiarelli, John L Hopper, Kavitha Krishnan, Jingmei LiQing Li, Ian Pagano, Bernard A Rosner, Chia Siong Wong, Christopher Scott, Jennifer Stone, Gertraud Maskarinec, Norman F Boyd, Carla H van Gils, Rulla M Tamimi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


BACKGROUND: Fibroglandular breast tissue appears dense on mammogram, whereas fat appears nondense. It is unclear whether absolute or percentage dense area more strongly predicts breast cancer risk and whether absolute nondense area is independently associated with risk.

METHODS: We conducted a meta-analysis of 13 case-control studies providing results from logistic regressions for associations between one standard deviation (SD) increments in mammographic density phenotypes and breast cancer risk. We used random-effects models to calculate pooled odds ratios and 95% confidence intervals (CIs). All tests were two-sided with P less than .05 considered to be statistically significant.

RESULTS: Among premenopausal women (n = 1776 case patients; n = 2834 control subjects), summary odds ratios were 1.37 (95% CI = 1.29 to 1.47) for absolute dense area, 0.78 (95% CI = 0.71 to 0.86) for absolute nondense area, and 1.52 (95% CI = 1.39 to 1.66) for percentage dense area when pooling estimates adjusted for age, body mass index, and parity. Corresponding odds ratios among postmenopausal women (n = 6643 case patients; n = 11187 control subjects) were 1.38 (95% CI = 1.31 to 1.44), 0.79 (95% CI = 0.73 to 0.85), and 1.53 (95% CI = 1.44 to 1.64). After additional adjustment for absolute dense area, associations between absolute nondense area and breast cancer became attenuated or null in several studies and summary odds ratios became 0.82 (95% CI = 0.71 to 0.94; P heterogeneity = .02) for premenopausal and 0.85 (95% CI = 0.75 to 0.96; P heterogeneity < .01) for postmenopausal women.

CONCLUSIONS: The results suggest that percentage dense area is a stronger breast cancer risk factor than absolute dense area. Absolute nondense area was inversely associated with breast cancer risk, but it is unclear whether the association is independent of absolute dense area.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of the National Cancer Institute
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 10 May 2014


  • Breast
  • Breast Neoplasms
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mammography
  • Middle Aged
  • Phenotype
  • Postmenopause


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