Open Access Open Badges Research article

Height, adiposity and body fat distribution and breast density in young women

Joanne F Dorgan1*, Catherine Klifa2, John A Shepherd2, Brian L Egleston1, Peter O Kwiterovich3, John H Himes4, Kelley Pettee Gabriel5, Linda Van Horn6, Linda G Snetselaar7, Victor J Stevens8, Bruce A Barton9, Alan M Robson10, Norman L Lasser11, Snehal Deshmukh1 and Nola M Hylton2

Author Affiliations

1 Fox Chase Cancer Center, 333 Cottman Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19111, USA

2 University of California, San Francisco, 1600 Divisadero Street, San Francisco, CA 94115, USA

3 Johns Hopkins Hospital, 600 N. Wolfe Street, Baltimore, MD 21287, USA

4 University of Minnesota, 1300 S. Second Street, Minneapolis, MN 55454, USA

5 University of Texas Health Science Center, 1616 Guadalupe Street, Austin, TX 78701, USA

6 Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, 680 N. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, IL 60611, USA

7 University of Iowa, 200 Hawkins Drive, Iowa City, IA 52242, USA

8 Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research, 3800 N. Interstate Avenue, Portland OR 97227, USA

9 University of Massachusetts Medical School, 333 South Street, Shrewsbury, MA 01545, USA

10 Children's Hospital, 200 Henry Clay Avenue, New Orleans, LA 70118, USA

11 New Jersey Medical School, 65 Bergen Street, Newark, NJ 07107, USA

For all author emails, please log on.

Breast Cancer Research 2012, 14:R107  doi:10.1186/bcr3228

Published: 13 July 2012



Breast density is one of the strongest risk factors for breast cancer, but determinants of breast density in young women remain largely unknown.


Associations of height, adiposity and body fat distribution with percentage dense breast volume (%DBV) and absolute dense breast volume (ADBV) were evaluated in a cross-sectional study of 174 healthy women, 25 to 29 years old. Adiposity and body fat distribution were measured by anthropometry and dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA), while %DBV and ADBV were measured by magnetic resonance imaging. Associations were evaluated using linear mixed-effects models. All tests of statistical significance are two-sided.


Height was significantly positively associated with %DBV but not ADBV; for each standard deviation (SD) increase in height, %DBV increased by 18.7% in adjusted models. In contrast, all measures of adiposity and body fat distribution were significantly inversely associated with %DBV; a SD increase in body mass index (BMI), percentage fat mass, waist circumference and the android:gynoid fat mass ratio (A:G ratio) was each associated significantly with a 44.4 to 47.0% decrease in %DBV after adjustment for childhood BMI and other covariates. Although associations were weaker than for %DBV, all measures of adiposity and body fat distribution also were significantly inversely associated with ADBV before adjustment for childhood BMI. After adjustment for childhood BMI, however, only the DXA measures of percentage fat mass and A:G ratio remained significant; a SD increase in each was associated with a 13.8 to 19.6% decrease in ADBV. In mutually adjusted analysis, the percentage fat mass and the A:G ratio remained significantly inversely associated with %DBV, but only the A:G ratio was significantly associated with ADBV; a SD increase in the A:G ratio was associated with an 18.5% decrease in ADBV.


Total adiposity and body fat distribution are independently inversely associated with %DBV, whereas in mutually adjusted analysis only body fat distribution (A:G ratio) remained significantly inversely associated with ADBV in young women. Research is needed to identify biological mechanisms underlying these associations.