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To assess the importance of various risk factors for breast cancer in women with benign proliferative breast lesions, we reevaluated 10,366 consecutive breast biopsies performed in women who had presented at three Nashville hospitals. The median duration of follow-up was 17 years for 3303 women, 1925 of whom had proliferative disease. This sample contained 84.4 per cent of the patients originally selected for follow-up. Women having proliferative disease without atypical hyperplasia had a risk of cancer that was 1.9 times the risk in women with nonproliferative lesions (95 per cent confidence interval, 1.2 to 2.9). The risk in women with atypical hyperplasia (atypia) was 5.3 times that in women with nonproliferative lesions (95 per cent confidence interval, 3.1 to 8.8). A family history of breast cancer had little effect on the risk in women with nonproliferative lesions. However, the risk in women with atypia and a family history of breast cancer was 11 times that in women who had nonproliferative lesions without a family history (95 per cent confidence interval, 5.5 to 24). Calcification elevated the cancer risk in patients with proliferative disease. Although cysts alone did not substantially elevate the risk, women with both cysts and a family history of breast cancer had a risk 2.7 times higher than that for women without either of these risk factors (95 per cent confidence interval, 1.5 to 4.6). This study demonstrates that the majority of women (70 per cent) who undergo breast biopsy for benign disease are not at increased risk of cancer. However, patients with a clinically meaningful elevation in cancer risk can be identified on the basis of atypical hyperplasia and a family history of breast cancer.