Effect of body mass index on breast cancer during premenopausal and postmenopausal periods: a meta-analysis

PLoS One. 2012;7(12):e51446. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0051446. Epub 2012 Dec 7.


Objective: There is no universal consensus on the relationship between body mass index (BMI) and breast cancer. This meta-analysis was conducted to estimate the overall effect of overweight and obesity on breast cancer risk during pre- and post-menopausal period.

Data sources: All major electronic databases were searched until April 2012 including Web of Knowledge, Medline, Scopus, and ScienceDirect. Furthermore, the reference lists and related scientific conference databases were searched.

Review methods: All prospective cohort and case-control studies investigating the association between BMI and breast cancer were retrieved irrespective of publication date and language. Women were assessed irrespective of age, race and marital status. The exposure of interest was BMI. The primary outcome of interest was all kinds of breast cancers confirmed pathologically. Study quality was assessed using the checklist of STROBE. Study selection and data extraction were performed by two authors separately. The effect measure of choice was risk ratio (RR(i)) and rate ratio (RR(a)) for cohort studies and odds ratio (OR) in case-control studies.

Results: Of 9163 retrieved studies, 50 studies were included in meta-analysis including 15 cohort studies involving 2,104,203 subjects and 3,414,806 person-years and 35 case-control studies involving 71,216 subjects. There was an inverse but non-significant correlation between BMI and breast cancer risk during premenopausal period: OR = 0.93 (95% CI 0.86, 1.02); RR(i) = 0.97 (95% CI 0.82, 1.16); and RR(a) = 0.99 (95% CI 0.94, 1.05), but a direct and significant correlation during postmenopausal period: OR = 1.15 (95% CI 1.07, 1.24); RR(i) = 1.16 (95% CI 1.08, 1.25); and RR(a) = 0.98 (95% CI 0.88, 1.09).

Conclusion: The results of this meta-analysis showed that body mass index has no significant effect on the incidence of breast cancer during premenopausal period. On the other hand, overweight and obesity may have a minimal effect on breast cancer, although significant, but really small and not clinically so important.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Body Mass Index*
  • Breast Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Breast Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Obesity / complications*
  • Odds Ratio
  • Overweight / complications*
  • Postmenopause / physiology*
  • Premenopause / physiology*
  • Risk Factors

Grant support

This study was funded by the Vice-Chancellor of Research and Technology of Hamadan University of Medical Sciences. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.