The association between breast tissue optical content and mammographic density in pre- and post-menopausal women

PLoS One. 2015 Jan 15;10(1):e0115851. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0115851. eCollection 2015.


Mammographic density (MD), associated with higher water and lower fat content in the breast, is strongly related to breast cancer risk. Optical attenuation spectroscopy (OS) is a non-imaging method of evaluating breast tissue composition by red and near-infrared light transmitted through the breast that, unlike mammography, does not involve radiation. OS provides information on wavelength dependent light scattering of tissue and on absorption by water, lipid, oxy-, deoxy-hemoglobin. We propose that OS could be an alternative marker of breast cancer risk and that OS breast tissue measures will be associated with MD. In the present analysis, we developed an algorithm to estimate breast tissue composition and light scattering parameters using a spectrally constrained global fitting procedure employing a diffuse light transport model. OS measurements were obtained from 202 pre- and post-menopausal women with normal mammograms. Percent density (PD) and dense area (DA) were measured using Cumulus. The association between OS tissue composition and PD and DA was analyzed using linear regression adjusted for body mass index. Among pre-menopausal women, lipid content was significantly inversely associated with square root transformed PD (β = -0.05, p = 0.0002) and DA (β = -0.05, p = 0.019); water content was significantly positively associated with PD (β = 0.06, p = 0.008). Tissue oxygen saturation was marginally inversely associated with PD (β = -0.03, p = 0.057) but significantly inversely associated with DA (β = -0.10, p = 0.002). Among post-menopausal women lipid and water content were significantly associated (negatively and positively, respectively) with PD (β lipid = -0.08, β water = 0.14, both p<0.0001) and DA (β lipid = -0.10, p<0.0001; β water = 0.11, p = 0.001). The association between OS breast content and PD and DA is consistent with more proliferation in dense tissue of younger women, greater lipid content in low density tissue and higher water content in high density tissue. OS may be useful for assessing physiologic tissue differences related to breast cancer risk, particularly when mammography is not feasible or easily accessible.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Breast Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mammary Glands, Human / physiology*
  • Mammography*
  • Middle Aged
  • Optical Imaging / methods*
  • Postmenopause
  • Premenopause

Grant support

This work was supported by CDMRP (Congress Directed Medical Research Plan) under DAMD 17-00-1-0393, CIPI (Canadian Institute of Photonics Innovation) and CBCRA (Canadian Breast Cancer Research Alliance). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.