Background and aims: The increase in breast cancer incidence over recent decades has been accompanied by an increase in the frequency of metabolic syndrome. Several studies suggest that breast cancer risk is associated with the components of metabolic syndrome (high serum glucose and triglycerides, low HDL-cholesterol, high blood pressure, and abdominal obesity), but no prospective study has investigated risk in relation to the presence of explicitly defined metabolic syndrome. We investigated associations between metabolic syndrome, its components, and breast cancer risk in a nested case-control study on postmenopausal women of the ORDET cohort.
Methods and results: After a median follow-up of 13.5 years, 163 women developed breast cancer; metabolic syndrome was present in 29.8%. Four matched controls per case were selected by incidence density sampling, and rate ratios were estimated by conditional logistic regression. Metabolic syndrome (i.e. presence of three or more metabolic syndrome components) was significantly associated with breast cancer risk (rate ratio 1.58 [95% confidence interval 1.07-2.33]), with a significant risk increase for increasing number of components (P for trend 0.004). Among individual metabolic syndrome components, only low serum HDL-cholesterol and high triglycerides were significantly associated with increased risk.
Conclusions: This prospective study indicates that metabolic syndrome is an important risk factor for breast cancer in postmenopausal women. Although serum HDL-cholesterol and triglycerides had the strongest association with breast cancer, all components may contribute to increased risk by multiple interacting mechanisms. Prevention or reversal of metabolic syndrome by life-style changes may be effective in preventing breast cancer in postmenopausal women.
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