Genetic determinants of mammographic density

Breast Cancer Res. 2002;4(3):R5. doi: 10.1186/bcr434. Epub 2002 Mar 25.


Background: Changes in breast density are highly correlated with steroid hormone exposure.

Materials and methods: In a cross-sectional study of 396 Caucasian and African-American women, we evaluated whether polymorphisms in genes involved in steroid hormone biosynthesis and metabolism, CYP17 (T27C), COMT (Val158Met), 17HSDB1 (Ser312Gly) and 3HSDB1 (Asn367Thr), predict mammographic density. We also evaluated whether associations vary by menopausal and hormone replacement therapy status.

Results: We found no strong consistent relationships between polymorphisms in these genes and breast density. African-American women homozygous for the Thr allele of 3HSDB1 had increased density (the absolute difference versus the Asn/Asn genotype was +19.7%; P trend = 0.02), while Caucasian homozygous women had decreased density (-5.1%; P trend = 0.04). Among premenopausal women, carriers of the Ser allele had (not significantly) greater density (versus Gly/Gly genotype: +7.1%; P trend = 0.07). In addition, among current users of hormone replacement therapy, we observed that women with the low-activity Met/Met genotype of COMT had greater breast density (versus the Val/Val genotype: +11.7%; P trend = 0.01).

Conclusion: Additional large studies evaluating these and other candidate breast cancer genes will be required to determine what proportion, if any, of the interindividual differences in breast density are due to underlying genetic variation in genes involved in steroid hormone biosynthesis or metabolism.

MeSH terms

  • 17-Hydroxysteroid Dehydrogenases / genetics
  • 3-Hydroxysteroid Dehydrogenases / genetics
  • African Continental Ancestry Group / genetics*
  • Breast / pathology*
  • Breast Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Catechol O-Methyltransferase / genetics
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • European Continental Ancestry Group / genetics*
  • Female
  • Hormones / biosynthesis*
  • Hormones / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Mammography
  • Methyltransferases / genetics
  • Middle Aged
  • Polymorphism, Genetic
  • Steroid 17-alpha-Hydroxylase / genetics


  • Hormones
  • 17-Hydroxysteroid Dehydrogenases
  • 3-Hydroxysteroid Dehydrogenases
  • Steroid 17-alpha-Hydroxylase
  • Methyltransferases
  • Catechol O-Methyltransferase