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PLoS One. 2013 Jul 31;8(7):e70217. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0070217. Print 2013.

Age and ethnic differences in volumetric breast density in new zealand women: a cross-sectional study.

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Centre for Public Health Research, Massey University, Wellington, New Zealand.


Breast cancer incidence differs by ethnicity in New Zealand (NZ) with Māori (the indigenous people) women having the highest rates followed by Pakeha (people primarily of British/European descent), Pacific and Asian women, who experience the lowest rates. The reasons for these differences are unclear. Breast density, an important risk factor for breast cancer, has not previously been studied here. We used an automated system, Volpara™, to measure breast density volume from the medio-lateral oblique view of digital mammograms, by age (≤50 years and >50 years) and ethnicity (Pakeha/Māori/Pacific/Asian) using routine data from the national screening programme: age; x-ray system and mammography details for 3,091 Pakeha, 716 Māori, 170 Pacific and 662 Asian (total n = 4,239) women. Linear regression of the natural logarithm of absolute and percent density values was used, back-transformed and expressed as the ratio of the geometric means. Covariates were age, x-ray system and, for absolute density, the natural log of the volume of non-dense tissue (a proxy for body mass index). Median age for Pakeha women was 55 years; Māori 53 years; and Pacific and Asian women, 52 years. Compared to Pakeha women (reference), Māori had higher absolute volumetric density (1.09; 95% confidence interval [95% CI] 1.03-1.15) which remained following adjustment (1.06; 95% CI 1.01-1.12) and was stronger for older compared to younger Māori women. Asian women had the greatest risk of high percentage breast density (1.35; 95% CI 1.27-1.43) while Pacific women in both the ≤50 and >50 year age groups (0.78; 95% CI 0.66-0.92 and 0.81; 95% CI 0.71-0.93 respectively) had the lowest percentage breast density compared to Pakeha. As well as expected age differences, we found differential patterns of breast density by ethnicity consistent with ethnic differences seen in breast cancer risk. Breast density may be a contributing factor to NZ's well-known, but poorly explained, inequalities in breast cancer incidence.

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