, Volume 6, Issue 6, pp 519-524

Effect of twinship on incidence of cancer of the testis, breast, and other sites (Sweden)

It has been suggested that cancers of the testis and breast are associated with exposure to estrogens and other hormones in utero. Twin pregnancies have higher levels of pregnancy-associated hormones than singleton pregnancies, and these levels may be higher in dizygotic than in monozygotic twin pregnancies. Through a large population-based study of twins, we assessed the hypothesis that levels of pregnancy-associated hormones have etiologic importance for cancers of the testis, breast, and other sites. The incidence of all cancers among 46,767 members of the Swedish Twin Registry was compared with the incidence among the Swedish general population. We found testicular cancer excess among dizygotic twins (observed/expected [O/E] ratio=1.6, 95 percent confidence interval [CI]=1.0–2.6) that was greater for men younger than 35 years (O/E ratio=2.3, CI=1.1–4.2) compared with older men (O/E ratio = 1.2, CI=0.5–2.4). In addition, a substantially elevated incidence of breast cancer was observed in dizygotic twin women aged 20 to 29 years (O/E=6.7, CI=2.9–13.1). None of the other age or zygosity groups showed notable elevations in incidence of testicular, breast, or other cancers. We conclude that dizygotic twinship may be associated with cancer of the breast and testis among young adults. These findings support the concept that pregnancy hormones are associated with risk of testicular and breast cancer, although non-hormonal aspects of twin pregnancy that vary with respect to zygosity cannot be excluded as explanatory factors.

The Swedish Twin Registry is supported by funds from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.