Background: As women age, the lobules in their breasts undergo involution or regression. We investigated whether lobular involution in women with benign breast disease was associated with subsequent breast cancer risk.
Methods: We examined biopsy specimens of 8736 women in the Mayo Benign Breast Disease Cohort from whom biopsy samples were taken between January 1, 1967, and December 31, 1991. Median follow-up for breast cancer outcomes was 17 years. We classified lobular involution in the background breast tissue as none (0% involuted lobules), partial (1%-74%), or complete (> or = 75%). Subsequent breast cancer events and data on other risk factors were obtained from medical records and follow-up questionnaires. To estimate relative risks (RRs), standardized incidence ratios were calculated by use of incidence rates from the Iowa Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Registry. All statistical tests were two-sided.
Results: Distribution of extent of involution was none among 1627 (18.6%) women, partial among 5197 (59.5%), and complete among 1912 (21.9%). Increased involution was positively associated with increased age and inversely associated with parity (both P<.001). The relative risk for the entire cohort of 8736 women, compared with the Iowa SEER population, was 1.40 (95% CI = 1.30 to 1.51). Risk of breast cancer was associated with the extent of involution (for no involution, RR [i.e., observed versus expected] = 1.88, 95% confidence interval [CI] = 1.59 to 2.21; for partial involution, RR = 1.47, 95% CI = 1.33 to 1.61; and for complete involution, RR = 0.91, 95% CI = 0.75 to 1.10; test for heterogeneity P<.001). Lobular involution modified risk in all subsets (e.g., among women with atypia, for no involution, RR = 7.79, 95% CI = 3.56 to 14.81; for partial involution, RR = 4.06, 95% CI = 3.03 to 5.33; and for complete involution, RR = 1.49, 95% CI = 0.41 to 3.82; P = .003).
Conclusions: In this large cohort of women with benign breast disease, lobular involution was associated with reduced risk of breast cancer. Aberrant involution may be a biologically important phenomenon in breast cancer biology.