Hormones and Cancer

, Volume 6, Issue 4, pp 182–188 | Cite as

Links between breast cancer and birth weight: an empirical test of the hypothesized association between size at birth and premenopausal adult progesterone concentrations

  • Krista M. Milich
  • Caroline Deimel
  • Franka S. Schaebs
  • Jonathan Thornburg
  • Tobias Deschner
  • Virginia J. VitzthumEmail author
Original Paper


Some studies have reported that birth size is a risk factor for breast cancer, but the reasons for this observation are unknown. Ovarian hormone concentrations may be a link between birth size and breast cancer, but the few tests of this hypothesis are inconsistent, perhaps because of differences in sample composition, inclusion of anovulatory cycles, or use of one hormonal measurement per woman. We present results from the first study to use daily hormonal measurements throughout a woman’s complete ovulatory cycle to test the hypothesized relationship between birth size and adult progesterone concentrations. We used a study sample and accompanying data set previously obtained for another research project in which we had collected daily urine samples from 63 healthy premenopausal women throughout a menstrual cycle. Multivariate regression was used to test for trends of individual progesterone indices (from 55 ovulatory cycles) with birth weight or ponderal index, while controlling for age, adult BMI, and age at menarche. Our main finding was that neither birth weight nor ponderal index was associated with biologically significant variation in luteal progesterone indices; the best-estimated effect sizes of birth size on these progesterone indices were small (3.7–10.2 %). BMI was the only significant predictor of mean peak urinary progesterone, but it explained <6 % of the variance. Our findings, in light of what is currently known regarding associations of breast cancer risk with birth size and adult size, suggest that environmental factors (particularly those that vary by socioeconomic status and affect growth) may underlie associations between birth size and cancer risks without there being any association of birth size with adult ovarian hormone concentrations.


Birth Weight Breast Cancer Risk Premenopausal Woman Adult Height Ovulatory Cycle 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We would like to thank the participants for being involved with this study, the assistants who helped with data collection and entry, and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (MPI-EVA) for facilities and logistical support. Financial support was provided by a Fulbright Senior Research Fellowship (VJV), MPI-EVA, and Indiana University. Thank you also to Tierney Lorenz, Sophia Graham, and Rebecca Bedwell for assistance with statistical analyses and manuscript preparation and to the editor and two anonymous reviewers for comments on earlier versions of this manuscript. The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Krista M. Milich
    • 1
    • 2
  • Caroline Deimel
    • 1
    • 2
  • Franka S. Schaebs
    • 3
  • Jonathan Thornburg
    • 4
  • Tobias Deschner
    • 3
  • Virginia J. Vitzthum
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  1. 1.The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and ReproductionIndiana UniversityBloomingtonUSA
  2. 2.Department of AnthropologyIndiana UniversityBloomingtonUSA
  3. 3.Department of PrimatologyMax Planck Institute for Evolutionary AnthropologyLeipzigGermany
  4. 4.Department of Astronomy and Center for Spacetime SymmetriesIndiana UniversityBloomingtonUSA

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