Breast density is a risk factor for cancer, even in older women, new study shows


UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center researcher Diana Miglioretti is the co-lead author of a new study that shows women 75 and older who have dense breasts have a higher risk of breast cancer.

UC Davis breast cancer researcher Diana Miglioretti helped lead study showing breast density is a cancer risk in older women

Research fills a gap in information and could affect whether older women receive breast cancer screening mammograms.

The study was published on August 26, 2021 in JAMA Network Open, an open-access online journal published by the American Medical Association. Researchers looked at data from more than 193,000 women aged 65 and older, including more than 70,000 who were 75 years or older. They found a positive association between breast density and breast cancer risk.

“This study provides evidence that breast density remains an important risk factor in older women and should be included in risk prediction models that also take into account life expectancy to help identify women who might benefit most of a continuous screening, ”said Miglioretti.

Miglioretti teamed up with co-lead author Dejana Braithwaite, associate director of population science at the University of Florida (UF) Health Cancer Center and professor at the UF Institute on Aging.

“Our goal is to develop the evidence that helps personalize breast cancer screening in older women,” said Braithwaite. “Older women who are healthy and have dense breasts may consider a screening mammogram even if they are aging beyond screening recommendations for women at average risk.”

Doctors have long recognized that women with denser breasts are at increased risk for invasive breast cancer, but so far virtually no data exists for women 75 and older.

At present, the United States Task Force on Preventive Services, or USPSTF, an independent panel of national experts on disease prevention and evidence-based medicine, does not recommend for or against mammography screening after breast cancer. age 74. was insufficient for a final recommendation.

Breast density is a measure of the amount of fibrous or glandular tissue relative to fatty tissue, with less dense breasts containing more fat. About half of women aged 40 to 74 have dense breasts. The breasts of aging women become less dense over time, although nearly a third of all women 65 and older still have dense breasts, Braithwaite said.

The USPSTF recommends a mammogram every two years for women aged 50 to 74. The American Cancer Society’s recommendations are slightly different, with annual mammograms suggested for women 45 and over, and then every two years after age 55 for healthy women.

Doctors note that not all older women would benefit from a screening mammogram, especially those with serious health conditions.

The study analyzed data from the Breast Cancer Surveillance Consortium and specifically looked at breast density as a risk factor for breast cancer in two groups of women – those aged 65 to 74 and those aged 75 and older. . Data was collected from women in New Hampshire, Vermont, North Carolina, the San Francisco area, Washington, New Mexico and Colorado.

While researchers have found that age is the biggest risk factor for breast cancer, women with dense breasts have a higher risk of breast cancer than women with oily breasts. And the risk increases with increasing breast density. For example, among women aged 65 to 74, the team found an increased risk of breast cancer over five years, ranging from 11.3 per 1,000 women in groups with oily breasts to 23.7 per 1,000. women in groups with dense breasts.

“The 30-32% of older women with high breast density should talk to their health care provider about whether high breast density increases their risk enough to warrant continued screening mammography,” said Karla Kerlikowske, co- author and UCSF member Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center.

For a full list of study authors, see the article Association of Breast Density with Breast Cancer Risk in Women 65 and Over by Age Group and Body Mass Index.

UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center

UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center is the only National Cancer Institute designated center serving the Central Valley and Interior of Northern California, an area of ​​over 6 million people. Its specialists provide compassionate and comprehensive care to more than 15,000 adults and children each year and provide access to more than 150 active clinical trials at any time. Its innovative research program engages more than 225 scientists at UC Davis who work collaboratively to advance the discovery of new tools to diagnose and treat cancer. Patients have access to cutting-edge care, including immunotherapy and other targeted treatments. Its office of community outreach and engagement tackles disparities in cancer outcomes among diverse populations, and the cancer center offers comprehensive education and workforce development programs for the next generation of people. clinicians and scientists. For more information, visit

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