Pubertal timing and breast density in young women: a prospective cohort study

Houghton, Lauren C.; Jung, Seungyoun; Troisi, Rebecca; LeBlanc, Erin S.; Snetselaar, Linda G.; Hylton, Nola M.; Klifa, Catherine; Van Horn, Linda; Paris, Kenneth; Shepherd, John A.; Hoover, Robert N.; Dorgan, Joanne F.

Earlier age at onset of pubertal events and longer intervals between them (tempo) have been associated with increased breast cancer risk. It is unknown whether the timing and tempo of puberty are associated with adult breast density, which could mediate the increased risk.

From 1988 to 1997, girls participating in the Dietary Intervention Study in Children (DISC) were clinically assessed annually between ages 8 and 17 years for Tanner stages of breast development (thelarche) and pubic hair (pubarche), and onset of menses (menarche) was self-reported. In 2006–2008, 182 participants then aged 25–29 years had their percent dense breast volume (%DBV) measured by magnetic resonance imaging. Multivariable, linear mixed-effects regression models adjusted for reproductive factors, demographics, and body size were used to evaluate associations of age and tempo of puberty events with %DBV.

The mean (standard deviation) and range of %DBV were 27.6 (20.5) and 0.2–86.1. Age at thelarche was negatively associated with %DBV (p trend = 0.04), while pubertal tempo between thelarche and menarche was positively associated with %DBV (p trend = 0.007). %DBV was 40% higher in women whose thelarche-to-menarche tempo was 2.9 years or longer (geometric mean (95%CI) = 21.8% (18.2–26.2%)) compared to women whose thelarche-to-menarche tempo was less than 1.6 years (geometric mean (95%CI) = 15.6% (13.9–17.5%)).

Our results suggest that a slower pubertal tempo, i.e., greater number of months between thelarche and menarche, is associated with higher percent breast density in young women. Future research should examine whether breast density mediates the association between slower tempo and increased breast cancer risk.


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Breast Cancer Research

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Published Here
December 20, 2022


Breast cancer, Breast density, Puberty