Can the make up of your breast tissue influence your risk for cancer?

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For all of their oversimplification on the pages of Playboy or on the streets at Mardi Gras, breasts are pretty complex body parts. And better understanding their unique composition of glands, lobes, lobules, fatty tissue, and ducts may help physicians better determine which women are at highest risk for breast cancer. In fact, researchers at the prestigious Mayo Clinic believe that the specific make up of women’s breasts—and in particular the concentration of sac-like milk-producing acini within the breast’s lobules—may indicate which women are at highest risk for developing cancer.

In a study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology researchers examined the breast composition of 85 female cancer patients, and compared it to earlier biopsies of the women’s then-healthy breast tissue. They then compared those findings against 142 control samples (from benign biopsies). By determining standard concentrations of acini and lobules in women’s breast tissue at different ages, they found that older women who still had a dense concentration of lobules and acini were more likely to develop cancer.

As women age, lobules and acini begin to disappear from breast tissue, decreasing the risk for cancer, the researchers say. Yet, if by age 55 the lobules (and acini within) haven’t largely disappeared, a woman’s risk for breast cancer may be tripled, according to the study. The researchers hope this new technique can be incorporated into current detection and prevention practices, and help doctors facilitate the best—and most timely—risk assessments for their patients.