Obesity as risk factor for subtypes of breast cancer: results from a prospective cohort study

Cina J Nattenmüller, Mark Kriegsmann, Disorn Sookthai, Renée Turzanski Fortner, Annika Steffen, Britta Walter, Theron Johnson, Jutta Kneisel, Verena Katzke, Manuela Bergmann, Hans Peter Sinn, Peter Schirmacher, Esther Herpel, Heiner Boeing, Rudolf Kaaks, Tilman Kühn

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BACKGROUND: Earlier epidemiological studies indicate that associations between obesity and breast cancer risk may not only depend on menopausal status and use of exogenous hormones, but might also differ by tumor subtype. Here, we evaluated whether obesity is differentially associated with the risk of breast tumor subtypes, as defined by 6 immunohistochemical markers (ER, PR, HER2, Ki67, Bcl-2 and p53, separately and combined), in the prospective EPIC-Germany Study (n = 27,012).

METHODS: Formalin-fixed and paraffin-embedded (FFPE) tumor tissues of 657 incident breast cancer cases were used for histopathological analyses. Associations between BMI and breast cancer risk across subtypes were evaluated by multivariable Cox regression models stratified by menopausal status and hormone therapy (HT) use.

RESULTS: Among postmenopausal non-users of HT, higher BMI was significantly associated with an increased risk of less aggressive, i.e. ER+, PR+, HER2-, Ki67low, Bcl-2+ and p53- tumors (HR per 5 kg/m2: 1.44 [1.10, 1.90], p = 0.009), but not with risk of more aggressive tumor subtypes. Among postmenopausal users of HT, BMI was significantly inversely associated with less aggressive tumors (HR per 5 kg/m2: 0.68 [0.50, 0.94], p = 0.018). Finally, among pre- and perimenopausal women, Cox regression models did not reveal significant linear associations between BMI and risk of any tumor subtype, although analyses by BMI tertiles showed a significantly lower risk of less aggressive tumors for women in the highest tertile (HR: 0.55 [0.33, 0.93]).

CONCLUSION: Overall, our results suggest that obesity is related to risk of breast tumors with lower aggressiveness, a finding that requires replication in larger-scale analyses of pooled prospective data.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)616
JournalBMC Cancer
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 31 May 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Biomarkers, Tumor/metabolism
  • Body Mass Index
  • Breast/pathology
  • Breast Neoplasms/drug therapy
  • Estrogen Replacement Therapy
  • Female
  • Germany/epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity/epidemiology
  • Premenopause
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Factors

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