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Clin Breast Cancer. 2008 Aug;8(4):334-42. doi: 10.3816/CBC.2008.n.038.

Examining breast cancer growth and lifestyle risk factors: early life, childhood, and adolescence.

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Department of Nutritional Sciences, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA, USA.


The perinatal period, childhood, and adolescence are important intervals for breast cancer risk development. Endogenous estrogen exposure is thought to be highest in utero, and exposure to estrogens throughout life plays an important role in increasing breast cancer risk. Some evidence suggests that breast tissue is not fully differentiated until after the first full-term pregnancy; thus, breast tissue might be more susceptible to carcinogenic influences during early life and adolescence. Birth characteristics of the daughter, including gestational age, birth weight, and birth length are associated with maternal hormone levels during the index pregnancy, and birth size has been related to daughter's timing of puberty and adult breast cancer incidence. Furthermore, early life and adolescence are critical times for maturation of the hypothalamic pituitary ovarian axis, which regulates production of ovarian hormones including estrogen and progesterone. Childhood height, growth, diet, and body mass index (BMI) have also been associated with breast cancer risk later in life. Of the examined characteristics, we conclude that the available evidence is suggestive of a positive relationship of breast cancer risk with birth weight, birth length, and adolescent height, and an inverse relationship with gestational age and childhood BMI, although several inconsistencies exist in the literature. The best evidence for a relationship of adolescent diet and adult breast cancer risk is indirect, and the relationship of diet, weight status, and weight gain in childhood deserves further attention. The interaction of birth characteristics with established risk factors over the life course, such as age at menarche, in addition to gene-environment interactions, require more research. Further study is also needed to clarify the biologic mechanisms influencing the observed associations.

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