Diabetes Treatment May Affect Breast Density
Women on insulin might need extra breast cancer screening, expert suggests
By Kathleen Doheny
WEDNESDAY, March 9, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- Women with diabetes who take insulin appear to have a higher risk of dense breasts, a known risk factor for breast cancer, new research suggests.
Women with diabetes who take insulin "have considerably increased breast density [compared to] women without diabetes," said study lead researcher Zorana Andersen. She's an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Southern Denmark in Esjberg.
Conversely, women taking the oral medication metformin instead of insulin to treat their diabetes seem less likely to have dense breasts, Andersen said.
Women with breasts that were more than 75 percent dense had a four to six times higher risk of breast cancer than women whose breasts were fattier, with a density of less than 25 percent, the researchers said.
Andersen and her team emphasized that, while insulin treatment was linked with greater chances of higher breast density, that doesn't prove insulin increases breast cancer risk. The study wasn't designed to prove a cause-and-effect relationship.
Andersen was to present the findings Wednesday at the European Breast Cancer Conference in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Research from meetings is generally viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
For the study, Andersen evaluated more than 5,600 women. They all had mammograms between 1993 and 2001. The average age was 56. Most of the women were past menopause. More than half had breasts classified as mixed or dense. Slightly more than 2 percent of the women had diabetes.
Overall, women with diabetes were less likely to have mixed or dense breasts, the study found.
However, women taking insulin injections were more than twice as likely to have dense or mixed (dense and fatty) breasts, the study found. This was true regardless of their body mass index, or whether they had gone through menopause -- when breasts may become less dense, the researchers said.
Meanwhile, women with diabetes who managed their condition with diet or with non-insulin medications were less likely to have dense breasts, the study found.
Diabetes has previously been linked with a higher risk of breast cancer, Andersen said. But, exactly why there has been an association hasn't been clear. It's also not clear how insulin may be increasing the odds of denser breasts.