Body iron stores and breast cancer risk in female atomic bomb survivors

Cancer Sci. 2011 Dec;102(12):2236-40. doi: 10.1111/j.1349-7006.2011.02080.x. Epub 2011 Sep 27.


Iron can be a potent pro-oxidant and, on this basis, elevated body iron may increase the risk of cancer. Although epidemiological evidence is mixed, there is overall support for this possibility. In addition, because of this same oxidative capacity, body iron levels may alter radiation sensitivity. In the present study, a nested case-control study of breast cancer was conducted in Japanese atomic bomb survivors. Stored serum samples from the Adult Health Study cohort were assayed for ferritin levels and joint statistical analyses were conducted of ferritin and radiation dose on the risk of breast cancer. Serum ferritin is the best feasible indicator of body iron levels in otherwise healthy people. A total of 107 cases and 212 controls were available for analysis. The relative risk (RR) of breast cancer for a 1 log unit increase in ferritin was 1.4 (95% confidence interval 1.1-1.8). This translates to an RR of 1.64 comparing high and low values of the interquartile range among controls (58 and 13.2 ng/mL, respectively). The results support the hypothesis that elevated body iron stores increase the risk of breast cancer. However, the study was inconclusive regarding the question of whether body iron alters radiation-induced breast cancer risk.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Breast / radiation effects*
  • Breast Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Breast Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cohort Studies
  • Environmental Exposure
  • Female
  • Ferritins / blood*
  • Humans
  • Iron
  • Japan
  • Neoplasms, Radiation-Induced / epidemiology
  • Neoplasms, Radiation-Induced / etiology*
  • Nuclear Warfare
  • Nuclear Weapons*
  • Radiation Dosage
  • Radiation Tolerance*
  • Risk
  • Survivors


  • Ferritins
  • Iron