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Am J Clin Nutr. 2017 Aug;106(2):637-649. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.116.150912. Epub 2017 Jun 28.

Nutritional metabolomics and breast cancer risk in a prospective study.

Author information

Yale School of Public Health, Yale University, New Haven, CT;
Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics, National Cancer Institute, Rockville, MD.
Cancer Prevention Laboratory, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO.
Yale School of Public Health, Yale University, New Haven, CT.
Yale Cancer Center, New Haven, CT; and.
US Food and Drug Administration, College Park, MD.


Background: The epidemiologic evidence for associations between dietary factors and breast cancer is weak and etiologic mechanisms are often unclear. Exploring the role of dietary biomarkers with metabolomics can potentially facilitate objective dietary characterization, mitigate errors related to self-reported diet, agnostically test metabolic pathways, and identify mechanistic mediators.Objective: The aim of this study was to evaluate associations of diet-related metabolites with the risk of breast cancer in the Prostate, Lung, Colorectal and Ovarian (PLCO) Cancer Screening Trial.Design: We examined prediagnostic serum concentrations of diet-related metabolites in a nested case-control study in 621 postmenopausal invasive breast cancer cases and 621 matched controls in the multicenter PLCO cohort. We calculated partial Pearson correlations between 617 metabolites and 55 foods, food groups, and vitamin supplements on the basis of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and derived from a 137-item self-administered food-frequency questionnaire. Diet-related metabolites (P-correlation < 1.47 × 10-6) were evaluated in breast cancer analyses. ORs for the 90th compared with the 10th percentile were calculated by using conditional logistic regression, with body mass index, physical inactivity, other breast cancer risk factors, and caloric intake controlled for (false discovery rate <0.2).Results: Of 113 diet-related metabolites, 3 were associated with overall breast cancer risk (621 cases): caprate (10:0), a saturated fatty acid (OR: 1.77; 95% CI = 1.28, 2.43); γ-carboxyethyl hydrochroman (γ-CEHC), a vitamin E (γ-tocopherol) derivative (OR: 1.64; 95% CI: 1.18, 2.28); and 4-androsten-3β,17β-diol-monosulfate (1), an androgen (OR: 1.61; 95% CI: 1.20, 2.16). Nineteen metabolites were significantly associated with estrogen receptor (ER)-positive (ER+) breast cancer (418 cases): 12 alcohol-associated metabolites, including 7 androgens and α-hydroxyisovalerate (OR: 2.23; 95% CI: 1.50, 3.32); 3 vitamin E (tocopherol) derivatives (e.g., γ-CEHC; OR: 1.80; 95% CI: 1.20, 2.70); butter-associated caprate (10:0) (OR: 1.81; 95% CI: 1.23, 2.67); and fried food-associated 2-hydroxyoctanoate (OR: 1.46; 95% CI: 1.03, 2.07). No metabolites were significantly associated with ER-negative breast cancer (144 cases).Conclusions: Prediagnostic serum concentrations of metabolites related to alcohol, vitamin E, and animal fats were moderately strongly associated with ER+ breast cancer risk. Our findings show how nutritional metabolomics might identify diet-related exposures that modulate cancer risk. This trial was registered at as NCT00339495.


alcohol; androgen; biomarker; breast cancer; diet; fat; metabolomics; nutrition; tocopherol

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