Review of anthropometric factors and breast cancer risk

Eur J Cancer Prev. 2001 Feb;10(1):15-32. doi: 10.1097/00008469-200102000-00003.


Epidemiological evidence implicating anthropometric risk factors in breast cancer aetiology is accumulating. For premenopausal women, breast cancer risk increases with increasing height, but decreases with higher weight or body mass index, and no association with increased central adiposity exists. For postmenopausal women, an increased risk of breast cancer is found with increasing levels of all the anthropometric variables including height, weight, body mass index, waist-hip ratio, waist circumference and weight gain. Weight loss appears to decrease risk, particularly if it occurs later in life. Breast size may be a risk factor for breast cancer, however, the current evidence is inconclusive. Several hypothesized biologic mechanisms exist to explain how anthropometric factors influence breast cancer risk. Obesity may increase levels of circulating endogenous sex hormones, insulin and insulin-like growth factors that all, in turn, increase breast cancer risk. Genetic predisposition to obesity and to specific body fat distributions are also implicated. With obesity, there are increased levels of fat tissue that can store toxins and can serve as a continuous source of carcinogens. Recommendations for future research on anthropometric factors and breast cancer are provided. Sufficient evidence exists to support strategies to avoid weight gain throughout life as a means of reducing postmenopausal breast cancer risk.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anthropometry*
  • Body Mass Index
  • Breast Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Breast Neoplasms / etiology
  • Female
  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones
  • Humans
  • Insulin
  • Obesity
  • Risk Factors
  • Somatomedins
  • Weight Gain


  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones
  • Insulin
  • Somatomedins