Birthweight, early life body size and adult mammographic density: a review of epidemiologic studies

Cancer Causes Control. 2014 Oct;25(10):1247-59. doi: 10.1007/s10552-014-0432-0. Epub 2014 Jul 23.


Purpose: To evaluate the association between birth weight and early life body size with adult mammographic density in the peer-reviewed literature.

Methods: A comprehensive literature search was conducted through January, 2014. English language articles that assessed adult mammographic density (MD) in relation to early life body size (≤18 years old), or birthweight were included.

Results: Nine studies reported results for early life body size and %MD. Both exposure and outcome were assessed at different ages using multiple methods. In premenopausal women, findings were inconsistent; two studies reported significant, inverse associations, one reported a non-significant, inverse association, and two observed no association. Reasons for these inconsistencies were not obvious. In postmenopausal women, four of five studies supported an inverse association. Two of three studies that adjusted for menopausal status found significant, inverse associations. Birthweight and %MD was evaluated in nine studies. No association was seen in premenopausal women and two of three studies reported positive associations in postmenopausal women. Three of four studies that adjusted for menopausal status found no association.

Discussion: Early life body size and birthweight appear unrelated to %MD in premenopausal women while an inverse association in postmenopausal women is more likely. Although based on limited data, birthweight and %MD appear positively associated in postmenopausal women. Given the small number of studies, the multiple methods of data collection and analysis, other methodologic issues, and lack of consistency in results, additional research is needed to clarify this complex association and develop a better understanding of the underlying biologic mechanisms.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Birth Weight*
  • Body Mass Index
  • Body Size*
  • Breast Density
  • Breast Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Causality
  • Child
  • Comorbidity
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Mammary Glands, Human / abnormalities*
  • Mammary Glands, Human / physiology
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity / epidemiology
  • Postmenopause / physiology
  • Premenopause / physiology
  • Risk Factors
  • Somatotypes / physiology