Background: Breast carcinoma risk may be modified by early life factors, including physical growth and development, diet, and life-style factors of preadolescence and adolescence, as well as genetic factors.
Methods: The authors tested their hypothesis that adolescent growth and development are related to breast carcinoma incidence by evaluating 65,140 women who participated in the Nurses' Health Study. During 16 years of follow-up, 806 women were diagnosed with breast carcinoma prior to menopause, and another 1485 were diagnosed after menopause. Because adolescent growth was not directly observed in this cohort, the peak height growth velocity for each participant was estimated by using a model from another longitudinal study. Finally, Cox proportional hazards regression models were used to study associations between breast carcinoma incidence and adolescent factors in the Nurses' Health Study.
Results: Later menarche (relative risk [RR] = 0.52 for > or =15 vs. < or =11 years) and more body fatness at age 10 years (RR = 0.60 for fattest vs. leanest) were associated with a decreased risk of premenopausal breast carcinoma. The risk of postmenopausal breast carcinoma was lower for girls with later menarche (RR = 0.80), more body fat at age 10 years (RR = 0.72), and shorter adult height (RR = 1.29 for > or =67 vs. < or =62 inches). Higher peak height growth velocity, derived from these 3 variables, was associated with increased risk of both premenopausal (RR = 1.31 for highest vs. lowest quintile) and postmenopausal (RR = 1.40) breast carcinoma. These analyses controlled for birth cohort, other possible risk factors from the adolescent period, and family history. These associations persisted after controlling for age at the birth of a first child, parity, adult adiposity, and age at menopause. Post-hoc analyses suggested that, although childhood body fatness was associated with lower risk, increasing body fatness between ages 10 and 20 years was not protective against either premenopausal or postmenopausal breast carcinoma.
Conclusions: Earlier menarche, extremely lean body mass at age 10 years, and taller adult height were predictive of elevated breast carcinoma risk. The same three factors were also predictive of higher peak growth velocities during adolescence, lending credence to the hypothesis that more rapid adolescent growth may increase the risk of breast carcinoma development.