Because cholesterol 5,6-epoxides have been reported to be mutagenic, carcinogenic, and cytotoxic, we investigated the relationship of these substances in breast fluid to histopathologically defined breast disease. We measured cholesterol and its oxidation product, 5β,6β-epoxide, in breast fluids from 68 women with biopsied benign breast disease (BBD) and 135 women with no history of breast disease (controls). Each biopsy was classified according to the most severe epithelial change: (a) nonproliferative epithelia; (b) hyperplasia without atypia; or (c) hyperplasia with atypia. Similar to our previous findings in control women, breast fluid cholesterol and β-epoxide concentrations in women with BBD were associated with factors of interest in relation to breast cancer: concentrations increased with age and were higher in white than nonwhite women and in women who were past or current smokers; concentrations were lower in women who had given birth or breastfed within 2 yr. Increased breast fluid cholesterol and β-epoxide concentrations were significantly associated with proliferative BBD (hyperplasia with or without atypia) compared to controls. After adjustment for covariates, the odds ratio for proliferative BBD associated with detectable versus nondetectable β-epoxide concentrations was 8.5 (95% confidence intervals, 1.1, 68.8). Our findings suggest that the histological progression from normal epithelium to hyperplasia without atypia to atypical hyperplasia is associated with progressively increasing concentrations of both cholesterol and cholesterol β-epoxide.


This work was supported in part by USPHS Grant P01 CA 13556-16A1 from the National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, MD.

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