In North America and Northern Europe, breast cancer incidence rates begin increasing in the early reproductive years and continue climbing into the late seventies, whereas rates plateau after menopause in japan and less developed countries. Female gender, age and country of birth are the strongest determinants of disease risk. Family history and mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are important correlates of lifetime risk. Genetic polymorphisms associated with estrogen synthesis and metabolism are currently under study. Atypical hyperplasia and molecular alterations in benign breast lesions appear to be involved in the pathogenesis of invasive carcinoma. In postmenopausal women, increased breast density on mammograms increases risk. Bone density and breast cancer are associated, presumably through the mechanism of endogenous estrogen levels. Serum estrogen levels are higher in breast cancer cases than controls. Many established risk factors for breast cancer may function through and endocrine mechanism. Current use of oral contraceptives and prolonged, current or recent use of hormone replacement therapy moderately increase risk. Tamoxifen and possibly other selective estrogen receptor modulators reduce breast cancer risk in high risk women. Relationships between various dietary micro and macronutrients and breast cancer have been suggested but require evaluation in clinical trials. Whereas alcohol consumption is associated with increased risk, most environmental factors, including polychlorinated compounds and electromagnetic fields, are not.
Conclusion: Breast cancer etiology is becoming clearer through the study of molecular alterations in germline and somatic cell genes, and the interaction of these genes with steroid hormones and relevant growth factors. This knowledge should be useful for breast cancer prevention.