Background: Mammographic density (MD) has been found to be an independent risk factor for breast cancer. Although data from twin studies suggest that MD has a strong genetic component, the exact genes involved remain to be identified. Alterations in stromal composition and the number of epithelial cells are the most predominant histopathological determinants of mammographic density. Interactions between the breast stroma and epithelium are critically important in the maturation and development of the mammary gland and the cross-talk between these cells are mediated by paracrine growth factors and cytokines. The potential impact of genetic variation in growth factors and cytokines on MD is largely unknown.
Methods: We investigated the association between 89 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in 7 cytokine/growth-factor genes (FGFR2, IGFBP1, IGFBP3, TGFB1, TNF, VEGF, IL6) and percent MD in 301 premenopausal women (aged 50 to 55 years) participating in the Norwegian Breast Cancer Screening Program. We evaluated the suggestive associations in 216 premenopausal Singapore Chinese Women of the same age.
Results: We found statistically significant associations between 9 tagging SNPs in the IL6 gene and MD in Norwegian women; the effect ranged from 3-5% in MD per variant allele (p-values = 0.02 to 0.0002). One SNP in the IL6 (rs10242595) significantly influenced MD in Singapore Chinese women.
Conclusion: Genetic variations in IL6 may be associated with MD and therefore may be an indicator of breast cancer risk in premenopausal women.