Research Snapshot: Researchers find association between breastfeeding duration and mammogram measurement that may inform breast cancer risk 

A new study led by UF Health Cancer Center member Lusine Yaghjyan, M.D., Ph.D., has found that in postmenopausal women some reproductive factors were associated with a novel measurement of image intensity variation on mammograms that may help predict women at an increased risk of breast cancer. 

Lusine Yaghjyan
Lusine Yaghjyan, M.D., Ph.D.

The study, published recently in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention, assessed 3,814 women without cancer from established nationwide study cohorts. The team evaluated the relationship between several reproductive factors and the novel measurement of breast image intensity, called the V-measure. 

The V-measure captures various factors related to breast tissue texture that can provide insight on the risk of breast cancer. Several studies have shown that measurements of texture features in breast tissue are associated with breast cancer risk, independent of percent breast density — a well-established and strong breast cancer risk factor.  

The researchers found that postmenopausal women who had a longer duration of lifetime breastfeeding or an older age at their first child’s birth were more likely to have a greater V-measure on mammograms, whereas women with more children were less likely to have a greater V-measure. 

The association of breastfeeding appeared independent of breast density, suggesting that the new measurement may capture more characteristics of breast texture other than percent density.  

“The results suggest that V-measure may be able to capture tissue texture features that are not captured by percent mammographic breast density,” Yaghjyan said. “This could shed new light on potential biological mechanisms behind the associations of these risk factors with breast cancer. If confirmed, the finding could provide potential new approaches to breast cancer prevention.” 

The exact mechanisms behind the observed associations are unclear and further research is needed, the team said. Several mechanisms could play a potential role, including reduction in breast lobular involution rates related to breastfeeding, the role of breastfeeding in increasing the proportion of stromal tissue in the breast in contrast to epithelial tissue, and higher secretion of prolactin, which in turn increases breast density. 

“Further evaluations of the texture features captured by the V-measure may better facilitate our understanding of its relation to breastfeeding,” Yaghjyan said. 

In addition to Yaghjyan, an associate professor of epidemiology in the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions and a member of the UF Health Cancer Center’s Cancer Control and Population Sciences research program, researchers from Harvard University, Massachusetts General Hospital, Weill Cornell Medicine and Moffitt Cancer Center were involved in the study. Funding came from the National Cancer Institute, Avon Foundation for Women, Susan G. Komen for the Cure and Breast Cancer Research Foundation. The UF Health Cancer Center receives crucial support for its research from the Casey DeSantis Cancer Research Act (Fla. Stat. § 381.915).

Read the study.

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