Background: Elevated mammographic density (MD) is a strong breast cancer risk factor but the mechanisms underlying the association are poorly understood. High MD and breast cancer risk may reflect cumulative exposures to factors that promote epithelial cell division. One marker of cellular replicative history is telomere length, but its association with MD is unknown. We investigated the relation of telomere length, a marker of cellular replicative history, with MD and biopsy diagnosis.
Methods: One hundred and ninety-five women, ages 40-65, were clinically referred for image-guided breast biopsies at an academic facility in Vermont. Relative peripheral blood leukocyte telomere length (LTL) was measured using quantitative polymerase chain reaction. MD volume was quantified in cranio-caudal views of the breast contralateral to the primary diagnosis in digital mammograms using a breast density phantom, while MD area (cm(2)) was measured using thresholding software. Associations between log-transformed LTL and continuous MD measurements (volume and area) were evaluated using linear regression models adjusted for age and body mass index. Analyses were stratified by biopsy diagnosis: proliferative (hyperplasia, in-situ or invasive carcinoma) or non-proliferative (benign or other non-proliferative benign diagnoses).
Results: Mean relative LTL in women with proliferative disease (n = 141) was 1.6 (SD = 0.9) vs. 1.2 (SD = 0.6) in those with non-proliferative diagnoses (n = 54) (P = 0.002). Mean percent MD volume did not differ by diagnosis (P = 0.69). LTL was not associated with MD in women with proliferative (P = 0.89) or non-proliferative (P = 0.48) diagnoses. However, LTL was associated with a significant increased risk of proliferative diagnosis (adjusted OR = 2.46, 95% CI: 1.47, 4.42).
Conclusions: Our analysis of LTL did not find an association with MD. However, our findings suggest that LTL may be a marker of risk for proliferative pathology among women referred for biopsy based on breast imaging.