Background: Germline mutations in the BRCA genes dramatically increase the risk of breast cancer. In the general population, breast cancer risk is affected by age at menarche, by age at first birth, by the number of births and by the duration of breast feeding. Whether this is true for mutation carriers is not clear.
Methods: In a case-control study, nested in a population-based cohort of the Icelandic Cancer Detection Clinic, two groups of cases were defined, matched on year of birth, on age at diagnosis and on age when giving information on reproductive factors: 100 carriers of the Icelandic founder BRCA2 mutation 999del5, and 361 BRCA2-negative cases. The mean age at diagnosis was 48 years. There were 1000 women in a matched group of unaffected controls. Conditional logistic regression was used for the analysis.
Results: An increased number of births was associated with a decreased risk of breast cancer in BRCA2-negative cases but not in BRCA2-positive cases. A negative association between risk and duration of breast feeding was observed only in the mutation carriers. These associations were not statistically significant, but the effects of the two variables differed significantly according to mutation status (P = 0.007 and P = 0.045 for interaction with number of births and with duration of breast feeding, respectively). This was maintained when limiting the analysis to women diagnosed older than the age of 40 years.
Conclusion: The association between breast cancer and the number of pregnancies and between breast cancer and the duration of breast feeding was not the same for carriers and noncarriers of a detrimental BRCA2 mutation. In the context of other epidemiological and laboratory studies, this may indicate that the product of the BRCA2 gene has a function relating to the differentiation of epithelial tissue in the breast.