Determinants of percentage and area measures of mammographic density

Am J Epidemiol. 2009 Dec 15;170(12):1571-8. doi: 10.1093/aje/kwp313. Epub 2009 Nov 12.


Mammographic density is one of the strongest predictors of breast cancer risk. Typically expressed as a percentage of the breast area occupied by radiologically dense tissue on a mammogram, its full value may not be realized because of its negative association with body mass index. A simpler measure of mammographic density, independent of other breast cancer risk factors and equally predictive of risk, would be preferable for risk prediction models. Percentage and area measures of mammographic density were determined for 815 women at high risk for breast cancer from the baseline assessments in the International Breast Cancer Intervention Study I, a trial of tamoxifen for breast cancer prevention conducted between 1992 and 2001. Multivariate linear regression was used to assess associations between risk factors and the mammographic measures. Percent dense area was negatively associated with age, body mass index, menopausal status, predicted risk, and smoking status (R(2) = 24%). Dense area was negatively associated with only age and body mass index (R(2) = 7%), and the latter association was much weaker than for percent dense area. Nondense area was positively associated with age, body mass index, and predicted risk (R(2) = 36%). Dense area was not associated with the multitude of risk factors that percent dense area was, making it a simpler biomarker for risk prediction modeling. Both dense area and percent dense area should be presented whenever possible for comparisons in research.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Body Mass Index
  • Breast Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Breast Neoplasms / etiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Linear Models
  • Mammography
  • Menopause
  • Middle Aged
  • Risk Factors
  • Smoking / adverse effects
  • Women's Health