Severe acne and risk of breast cancer

Breast Cancer Res Treat. 2019 Sep;177(2):487-495. doi: 10.1007/s10549-019-05302-z. Epub 2019 Jun 5.


Purpose: Hormonal imbalance early in life is thought to be associated with breast cancer risk. Severe acne may arise from hormonal imbalance and could serve as an indicator of increased breast cancer risk. We explored whether severe acne was associated with incident breast cancer.

Methods: We used data from the Sister Study, a large (n = 50,884) prospective cohort of women who had a sister diagnosed with breast cancer, but who were free of breast cancer themselves at baseline. Participants completed a structured questionnaire that included demographics, lifestyle factors, and medical history, including any diagnosis of severe acne. Adjusted Cox proportional hazards models were used to estimate hazard ratios (HRs) and 95% confidence intervals (95% CIs) for the association of severe acne and breast cancer (invasive disease or ductal carcinoma in situ).

Results: During an average of 8.4 years of follow-up, 3049 breast cancer cases were diagnosed. Ever being diagnosed with severe acne was associated with a higher risk of breast cancer (HR 1.23; 95% CI 0.98, 1.54), particularly in women who were diagnosed prior to age 18 years (HR 1.40; 95% CI 1.04, 1.90). Results were similar when limited to invasive cancers.

Conclusions: Our study supports a non-significant positive association between severe acne-a potential marker of hormonal imbalance-and breast cancer risk. These findings suggest that severe acne, when considered along with other risk factors, could help to identify women who may be at a higher risk of breast cancer.

Keywords: Epidemiology; Hormones; Risk factors; Severe acne.

MeSH terms

  • Acne Vulgaris / complications*
  • Acne Vulgaris / diagnosis
  • Acne Vulgaris / epidemiology*
  • Acne Vulgaris / therapy
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Breast Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Breast Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Disease Susceptibility
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Proportional Hazards Models
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors
  • Severity of Illness Index