Active smoking and risk of breast cancer in a Danish nurse cohort study

BMC Cancer. 2017 Aug 22;17(1):556. doi: 10.1186/s12885-017-3546-4.


Background: No scientific consensus has been reached on whether active tobacco smoking causes breast cancer. We examine the association between active smoking and breast cancer risk in Denmark, which has some of the highest smoking and breast cancer rates in women worldwide.

Methods: We used the data from a nationwide Danish Nurse Cohort on 21,867 female nurses (age > 44 years) who at recruitment in 1993 or 1999 reported information on smoking status, onset, duration, and intensity, as well as breast cancer risk factors. We obtained data on incidence of breast cancer from Danish Cancer Registry until 2013, and used Cox regression models to analyze the association between smoking and breast cancer.

Results: Of 21,831 women (mean age 53.2 years) 1162 developed breast cancer during 15.7 years of follow-up. 33.7% of nurses were current and 30.0% former smokers at cohort baseline. Compared to never smokers, we found increased risk of breast cancer of 18% in ever (hazard ratio and 95% confidence interval: 1.18; 1.04-1.34) and 27% in current (1.27; 1.11-1.46) smokers. We detected a dose-response relationship with smoking intensity with the highest breast cancer risk in women smoking >15 g/day (1.31; 1.11-1.56) or >20 pack-years (1.32; 1.12-1.55). Parous women who smoked heavily (>10 pack-years) before first childbirth had the highest risk of breast cancer (1.58; 1.20-2.10). Association between smoking and breast cancer was not modified by menopausal status, obesity, alcohol or hormone therapy use, and seemed to be limited to the estrogen receptor positive breast cancer subtype.

Conclusions: Active smoking increases risk of breast cancer, with smoking before first birth being the most relevant exposure window.

Keywords: Active smoking; Breast cancer; Cohort; Tobacco smoking.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Breast Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Breast Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Denmark / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Nurses*
  • Proportional Hazards Models
  • Public Health Surveillance
  • Registries
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors
  • Smoking / adverse effects*