No relationship between circulating levels of sex steroids and mammographic breast density: the Prospect-EPIC cohort

Breast Cancer Res. 2007;9(4):R53. doi: 10.1186/bcr1758.


Background: High breast density is associated with increased breast cancer risk. Epidemiologic studies have shown an increase in breast cancer risk in postmenopausal women with high levels of sex steroids. Hence, sex steroids may increase postmenopausal breast cancer risk via an increase of breast density. The objective of the present study was to study the relation between circulating oestrogens and androgens as well as sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG) in relation to breast density.

Methods: We conducted a cross-sectional study among 775 postmenopausal women, using baseline data of a random sample of the Prospect-EPIC study. Prospect-EPIC is one of two Dutch cohorts participating in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition, and women were recruited via a breast cancer screening programme. At enrolment a nonfasting blood sample was taken and a mammogram was made. Oestrone, oestradiol, dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate, androstenedione, testosterone and SHBG levels were measured, using double-antibody radioimmunoassays. Concentrations of free oestradiol and free testosterone were calculated from the measured oestradiol, testosterone and SHBG levels Mammographic dense and nondense areas were measured using a semiquantitative computerized method and the percentage breast density was calculated. Mean breast measures for quintiles of hormone or SHBG levels were estimated using linear regression analyses.

Results: Both oestrogens and testosterone were inversely related with percent breast density, but these relationships disappeared after adjustment for BMI. None of the sex steroids or SHBG was associated with the absolute measure of breast density, the dense area.

Conclusion: The results of our study do not support the hypothesis that sex steroids increase postmenopausal breast cancer risk via an increase in breast density.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Androgens / blood*
  • Breast Neoplasms / blood*
  • Breast Neoplasms / diagnostic imaging*
  • Breast Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Cohort Studies
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Estrogens / blood*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mammography*
  • Middle Aged
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Hormone-Binding Globulin / metabolism*
  • Testosterone / blood*


  • Androgens
  • Estrogens
  • Sex Hormone-Binding Globulin
  • Testosterone