A case-control study of bilateral compared with unilateral breast cancer

Joan Elizabeth Cunningham, The University of Texas School of Public Health


Approximately 10 to 15% of breast cancer patients develop a primary cancer in the contralateral breast. This study examined differences between women with unilateral compared with bilateral primary breast cancer. It focused on hormonal factors and family history, and evaluated the prevalences of invasive lobular histology and the replication error phenotype in the tumors. Cases (n = 82) were patients at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center (MDACC) in Houston, Texas diagnosed with primary breast cancer in each breast between 1985 and 1994 inclusive. Controls (n = 82) were MDACC patients with primary cancer in a single breast diagnosed during the same interval, individually matched to cases. Data were obtained by in-person and/or telephone interview with the patient and/or proxy. Replication error phenotype was determined from archival tissue. Diagnosis of breast, but not ovarian, cancer in a female first-degree relative (FFDR) was a strong risk factor for bilateral cancers. Cases had a significantly 3-fold higher excess of familial breast cancer than did controls (cases: O/E = 2.65, 95% CI = 1.85–3.69; controls: 0.86, 0.46–1.47; homogeneity: p = 0.00). Risk did not vary with menopausal status of the patient, but was greatest if a relative was diagnosed before age 45 (O/E = 38.9; 95% CI = 21.7–64.1). By implication, young first-degree relatives of patients with bilateral breast cancer are at very high risk of breast cancer themselves. Cases also had significantly fewer siblings than did controls. Earlier menarche, and parity in the absence of lactation, were associated with bilateral cancers; age at menopause and parity with lactation were not. A history of alcohol consumption, particularly if heavy, carried a 3.4-fold risk (p = 0.03). The data suggested a slightly different pattern in risk factors according to menopausal status and interval between cancers. Replication error phenotype was available for 59 probands. It was associated with bilateral cancers (particularly if diagnosed within one year of each other), increased age (p = 0.02) and negative nodal status. Invasive lobular histology was associated with bilateral disease but numbers were small. These data suggest bilateral breast cancer arises in the context of a combination of familial and hormonal factors, and alcohol consumption. The relative importance of each factor may vary by age of the patient.

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Recommended Citation

Cunningham, Joan Elizabeth, "A case-control study of bilateral compared with unilateral breast cancer" (1998). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI9927543.