Mammographic breast density (MBD) is a risk factor for breast cancer, but its molecular basis is poorly understood. Growth factors stimulate cellular and epithelial proliferation and could influence MBD via these mechanisms. Studies investigating the associations of circulating growth factors with MBD have, however, yielded conflicting results especially in postmenopausal women. We, therefore, investigated the associations of plasma growth factor gene expression [insulin-like growth factor (IGF)-1, IGF-binding protein 3, FGF-1, FGF-12, TGFβ1 and bone morphogenetic protein (BMP)-2] with MBD in postmenopausal women. We used NanoString nCounter platform to quantify plasma growth factor gene expression and Volpara to evaluate volumetric MBD measures. We investigated the associations of growth factor gene expression with MBD using both multiple linear regression (fold change) and multinomial logistic regression models, adjusted for potential confounders. The mean age of the 368 women enrolled was 58 years (range, 50–64). In analyses using linear regression models, one unit increase in IGF-1 gene expression was associated with a 35% higher volumetric percent density (VPD, 1.35; 95% confidence interval (CI), 1.13–1.60; P = 0.001). There were suggestions that TGFβ1 gene expression was positively associated with VPD while BMP-2 gene expression was inversely associated with VPD, but these were not statistically significant. In analyses using multinomial logistic regression, TGFβ1 gene expression was 33% higher (OR = 1.33; 95% CI, 1.13–1.56; P = 0.0008) in women with extremely dense breasts than those with almost entirely fatty breasts. There were no associations between growth factor gene expression and dense volume or nondense volume. Our study provides insights into the associations of growth factors with MBD in postmenopausal women and requires confirmation in other study populations.
Mammographic breast density is a strong risk factor for breast cancer. Understanding its underlying biological mechanisms could have utility in breast cancer prevention.