Changes in mammographic breast density and concomitant changes in breast cancer risk

Eur J Cancer Prev. 1999 Dec;8(6):509-15. doi: 10.1097/00008469-199912000-00006.


Among participants of the biennial Nijmegen breast cancer screening programme, we examined whether diminution of mammographic breast density lowered breast cancer risk. Post-menopausal breast cancer cases (n = 108), who had to have participated in all the five screening rounds prior to their diagnosis, were matched to 400 controls on year of birth and screening history. Controls had to be free of breast cancer at the time of the case's diagnosis. Changes in breast density were measured over a 10-year period, by a fully computerized method. Women in whom 5-25% or >25% of the breast was composed of fibro-glandular density showed a threefold increased 10-year risk compared to women with <5% density. In women with 5-25% density initially, we observed a trend of decreasing risk with diminishing density: when women with <5% density throughout the whole period formed the reference category, the odds ratio (OR) for those who decreased from 5-25% to <5% density was 1.9 [95% confidence interval (CI) = 0.6-6.1] in contrast to the OR of 5.7 (95% CI = 2.2-15.2) for those with persisting 5-25% density. In women who increased from 5-25% density to >25% density the OR was 6.9 (95% CI = 2.1-22.9). In women with >25% density initially, diminishing density was not clearly associated with lowering risk, which may be partly explained by the low number of women who decreased to <5% (n = 12). Due to the limited size of the study these results have to be interpreted with caution. Although the results are not conclusive, they could indicate a trend of decreasing risk with diminishing breast density. Should this effect be real, it may have great implications for the primary prevention of breast cancer or for the identification of high-risk groups who would benefit by more frequent screening. Therefore, large-scale, long-term follow-up studies on the effects of changes in breast density are needed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Breast / anatomy & histology*
  • Breast Neoplasms / diagnostic imaging*
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mammography*
  • Mass Screening
  • Middle Aged
  • Reference Values
  • Risk Assessment