Background: Invasive breast cancers are now commonly classified using gene expression into biologically and clinically distinct tumor subtypes. However, the role of obesity in breast tumor gene expression and intrinsic subtype is unknown.
Methods: Early-stage breast cancer (BC) patients (n = 1,676) were sampled from two prospective cohorts. The PAM50 qRT-PCR assay was used to: a) assess tumor gene expression levels for ESR1, PGR, ERBB2, and 10 proliferation genes and b) classify tumors into intrinsic subtype (Luminal A, Luminal B, Basal-like, HER2-enriched, Normal-like). Body mass index (BMI) around BC diagnosis (kg/m(2)) was categorized as: underweight (<18.5), normal (18.5-24), overweight (25-29), mildly obese (30-34), and highly obese (≥35). In a cross-sectional analysis, we evaluated associations of BMI with gene expression using linear regression models, and associations of BMI with non-Luminal A intrinsic subtypes, compared with Luminal A subtype, using multinomial logistic regression. Statistical significance tests were two-sided.
Results: Highly obese women had tumors with higher expression of proliferation genes compared with normal weight women (adjusted mean difference = 0.44; 95% CI: 0.18, 0.71), yet mildly obese (adjusted mean difference = 0.16; 95% CI: -0.06, 0.38) and overweight (adjusted mean difference = 0.18; 95% CI: -0.01, 0.36) women did not. This association was stronger in postmenopausal women (p for interaction = 0.06). Being highly obese, however, was inversely associated with ESR1 expression (adjusted mean difference = -0.95; 95% CI: -1.47, -0.42) compared with being normal weight, whereas being mildly obese and overweight were not. In addition, women with Basal-like and Luminal B subtypes, relative to those with Luminal A subtype, were more likely to be highly obese, compared with normal-weight.
Conclusions: ER expression may not increase correspondingly with increasing degree of obesity. Highly obese patients are more likely to have tumor subtypes associated with high proliferation and poorer prognosis.