Breast Cancer Research and Treatment

, Volume 162, Issue 1, pp 139–149 | Cite as

Body size from birth through adolescence in relation to risk of benign breast disease in young women

  • Catherine S. Berkey
  • Bernard Rosner
  • Rulla M. Tamimi
  • Walter C. Willett
  • Martha Hickey
  • Adetunji Toriola
  • A. Lindsay Frazier
  • Graham A. Colditz



Body size, from birth throughout adulthood, is associated with breast cancer risk, but few studies have investigated early-life body size and benign breast disease (BBD), a well-established breast cancer risk factor. We consider whether prenatal factors and size at birth, 10, 18 year, and intervening growth, are related to BBD risk.


The Growing Up Today Study includes 9032 females who completed questionnaires annually from 1996 to 2001, then 2003, 2005, 2007, 2010, and 2013. In 1996, their mothers provided pregnancy-related data. From 2005 to 2013, participants (18 year+) reported whether they had ever been diagnosed with biopsy-confirmed BBD (N = 142 cases).


Girls had greater adiposity (BMI; kg/m2) at 10 year if they were larger at birth, if mother’s pre-pregnancy BMI was higher, or if gestational weight gain was greater (all p < .01). Maternal height was (positively) associated (p < .05) with adolescent peak height growth velocity (PHV; in./year). Greater 10 year adiposity was associated with lower PHV and less height growth 10–18 year (both p < .01). Adiposity at 10 year was inversely associated with BBD (OR 0.83/(kg/m2), p < .01) as was increasing adiposity 10–18 year (OR 0.85/(kg/m2), p = .01). In a separate model, 10 year height (OR 1.13/in., p = .02) and height growth 10–18 year (OR 1.19/in.; p < .01) were positively associated. PHV was similarly positively associated (OR 2.58, p = .01, fastest versus slowest growth quartiles). In a multivariable model of BBD risk, gestational weight gain (daughters at highest risk if <20 lb gained), PHV (slowest growing girls at lowest risk), age 10 year height (positive), and BMI (inverse) were the most critical childhood risk factors (each p < .05).


Body size factors from pregnancy through adolescence were independently associated with BBD risk in young women.


Maternal pre-pregnancy BMI Gestational weight gain Prenatal Birth weight Childhood adiposity Height growth 



Supported by a Grant from The Breast Cancer Research Foundation (NYC, NY) to Dr. Colditz and by DK046834 from the National Institutes of Health (Bethesda, MD). Dr. Frazier was supported by an award from the American Institute for Cancer Research. Dr. Colditz, who founded GUTS, was supported, in part, by an American Cancer Society Clinical Research Professorship. The authors appreciate the ongoing, since 1996, dedication of our female GUTS participants and their mothers in NHSII.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All procedures were in accordance with the ethical standards of Harvard University and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in this study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Catherine S. Berkey
    • 1
  • Bernard Rosner
    • 1
  • Rulla M. Tamimi
    • 1
  • Walter C. Willett
    • 2
  • Martha Hickey
    • 3
  • Adetunji Toriola
    • 4
  • A. Lindsay Frazier
    • 5
  • Graham A. Colditz
    • 6
  1. 1.Channing Division of Network Medicine, Department of MedicineBrigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical SchoolBostonUSA
  2. 2.Departments of Nutrition and EpidemiologyHarvard T.H. Chan School of Public HealthBostonUSA
  3. 3.Department of Obstetrics and GynaecologyUniversity of Melbourne and The Royal Women’s HospitalMelbourneAustralia
  4. 4.Division of Public Health Sciences, Department of Surgery, Alvin J Siteman Cancer CenterWashington University School of MedicineSt. LouisUSA
  5. 5.Department of Pediatric OncologyDana-Farber Cancer InstituteBostonUSA
  6. 6.Alvin J. Siteman Cancer CenterWashington University School of MedicineSt. LouisUSA

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