Genetic variants associated with breast cancer risk are influenced by mammographic density, according to a study published in Cancer Research (2010 Feb 15;70(4):1449-1458).

According to background information provided in the press release announcing the findings, light areas on a mammogram reveal the mammographic density of the breast, and women who have high mammographic density for their age have an increased risk of breast cancer.

For a study led by Professor John Hopper of the University of Melbourne’s School of Population Health, researchers investigated 12 genetic variants known to be associated with breast cancer using mammograms and blood samples of 830 twin pairs and 600 of their sisters.

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The results revealed that at least two variants were linked. “Finding that several genetic variants associated with breast cancer genes are also associated with mammographic density could help explain some of the biological reasons why women of the same age differ so much in mammographic density,” noted Professor Hopper.

While previous studies have demonstrated a possible genetic link between mammographic density and breast cancer, this current study allowed for researchers to identify some of the breast cancer genetic variants involved.

“We hope our research on mammographic density will eventually help identify women at higher risk of getting breast cancer,” Professor Hopper stated. “That is still a way off, but for now women should follow national guidelines for screening.”