Prenatal and perinatal risk factors for breast cancer in young women

Epidemiology. 1997 Mar;8(2):181-7. doi: 10.1097/00001648-199703000-00010.


There is increasing interest in the role of early life exposures in breast carcinogenesis, especially estrogen exposure in utero. Estrogen levels during pregnancy may be higher in twin pregnancies and among older women and slightly lower among smokers. We analyzed early life risk factors in a population-based case-control study in the United States of 2,202 breast cancer cases and 2,009 controls under age 55 years. Twins were at an increased risk of breast cancer compared with singletons (relative risk = 1.62; 95% confidence interval = 1.0-2.7), particularly women with a twin brother (relative risk = 2.06), a finding consistent with the observation of high estrogen levels in dizygotic twin pregnancies. Little association was seen between maternal age at birth and breast cancer risk. We carried out further analyses for 534 cases and 497 controls under age 45 years, using data from a questionnaire completed by their mothers relating to the daughters' early life exposures. There was no evidence of an effect of smoking or diethylstilbestrol exposure during pregnancy on daughters' breast cancer risk. A reduced breast cancer risk was seen among women who had been breastfed (relative risk = 0.74; 95% confidence interval = 0.6-1.0). These findings indicate some effect of early life exposures on breast cancer risk, although the role of estrogen exposure may be less central than previously suggested.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Breast Feeding
  • Breast Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Breast Neoplasms / etiology
  • Breast Neoplasms / physiopathology
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Confidence Intervals
  • Estrogens / adverse effects
  • Estrogens / biosynthesis*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Maternal Age
  • Middle Aged
  • Perinatal Care
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy, Multiple*
  • Random Allocation
  • Registries
  • Risk Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Twins
  • United States / epidemiology


  • Estrogens