Role of birthweight in the etiology of breast cancer

Int J Cancer. 2006 Nov 1;119(9):2007-25. doi: 10.1002/ijc.22004.


Breast cancer may originate in utero. We reviewed the available evidence on the association between birthweight and the risk of breast cancer. To date, 26 research papers addressing this issue have been published. The majority of studies identified a positive link between birthweight and premenopausal, but not postmenopausal, breast cancer. The relative risk estimate for breast cancer comparing women with high birthweight to women with low birthweight combining all studies including both pre- and postmenopausal breast cancer was 1.23 (95% confidence interval 1.13-1.34). The mechanisms underlying this association likely include elevated levels of growth factors that may increase the number of susceptible stem cells in the mammary gland or initiate tumors through DNA mutations. Loss of imprinting (LOI) of growth hormone genes relevant for intrauterine growth, such as insulin-like growth factor 2 (IGF2), leads to abnormally high levels of these hormones evidenced by high birthweight. LOI of IGF2 has also been found in mammary tumor tissue. The role of environmental factors that stimulate such epigenetic regulation of gene expression remains to be elucidated.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Birth Weight*
  • Body Size
  • Breast Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Breast Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Female
  • Fetal Development
  • Gestational Age
  • Humans
  • Pregnancy
  • Risk Assessment