Background: Long-term insulin exposure has been implicated in breast cancer etiology, but epidemiological evidence remains inconclusive. The aims of this study were to investigate the association of insulin therapy with mammographic density (MD) as an intermediate phenotype for breast cancer and to assess associations with long-term elevated circulating insulin levels using a genetic score comprising 18 insulin-associated variants.
Methods: We used data from the KARolinska MAmmography (Karma) project, a Swedish mammography screening cohort. Insulin-treated patients with type 1 (T1D, n = 122) and type 2 (T2D, n = 237) diabetes were identified through linkage with the Prescribed Drug Register and age-matched to 1771 women without diabetes. We assessed associations with treatment duration and insulin glargine use, and we further examined MD differences using non-insulin-treated T2D patients as an active comparator. MD was measured using a fully automated volumetric method, and analyses were adjusted for multiple potential confounders. Associations with the insulin genetic score were assessed in 9437 study participants without diabetes.
Results: Compared with age-matched women without diabetes, insulin-treated T1D patients had greater percent dense (8.7% vs. 11.4%) and absolute dense volumes (59.7 vs. 64.7 cm3), and a smaller absolute nondense volume (615 vs. 491 cm3). Similar associations were observed for insulin-treated T2D, and estimates were not materially different in analyses comparing insulin-treated T2D patients with T2D patients receiving noninsulin glucose-lowering medication. In both T1D and T2D, the magnitude of the association with the absolute dense volume was highest for long-term insulin therapy (≥ 5 years) and the long-acting insulin analog glargine. No consistent evidence of differential associations by insulin treatment duration or type was found for percent dense and absolute nondense volumes. Genetically predicted insulin levels were positively associated with percent dense and absolute dense volumes, but not with the absolute nondense volume (percentage difference [95% CI] per 1-SD increase in insulin genetic score = 0.8 [0.0; 1.6], 0.9 [0.1; 1.8], and 0.1 [- 0.8; 0.9], respectively).
Conclusions: The consistency in direction of association for insulin treatment and the insulin genetic score with the absolute dense volume suggest a causal influence of long-term increased insulin exposure on mammographic dense breast tissue.
Keywords: Breast cancer; Diabetes; Insulin; Insulin genetic score; Mammographic density.