Mammographic density change in a cohort of premenopausal women receiving tamoxifen for breast cancer prevention over 5 years

Adam R Brentnall, Ruth Warren, Elaine F Harkness, Susan M Astley, Julia Wiseman, Jill Fox, Lynne Fox, Mikael Eriksson, Per Hall, Jack Cuzick, D Gareth Evans, Anthony Howell

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BACKGROUND: A decrease in breast density due to tamoxifen preventive therapy might indicate greater benefit from the drug. It is not known whether mammographic density continues to decline after 1 year of therapy, or whether measures of breast density change are sufficiently stable for personalised recommendations.

METHODS: Mammographic density was measured annually over up to 5 years in premenopausal women with no previous diagnosis of breast cancer but at increased risk of breast cancer attending a family-history clinic in Manchester, UK (baseline 2010-2013). Tamoxifen (20 mg/day) for prevention was prescribed for up to 5 years in one group; the other group did not receive tamoxifen and were matched by age. Fully automatic methods were used on mammograms over the 5-year follow-up: three area-based measures (NN-VAS, Stratus, Densitas) and one volumetric (Volpara). Additionally, percentage breast density at baseline and first follow-up mammograms was measured visually. The size of density declines at the first follow-up mammogram and thereafter was estimated using a linear mixed model adjusted for age and body mass index. The stability of density change at 1 year was assessed by evaluating mean squared error loss from predictions based on individual or mean density change at 1 year.

RESULTS: Analysis used mammograms from 126 healthy premenopausal women before and as they received tamoxifen for prevention (median age 42 years) and 172 matched controls (median age 41 years), with median 3 years follow-up. There was a strong correlation between percentage density measures used on the same mammogram in both the tamoxifen and no tamoxifen groups (all correlation coeficients > 0.8). Tamoxifen reduced mean breast density in year 1 by approximately 17-25% of the inter-quartile range of four automated percentage density measures at baseline, and from year 2, it decreased further by approximately 2-7% per year. Predicting change at 2 years using individual change at 1 year was approximately 60-300% worse than using mean change at 1year.

CONCLUSIONS: All measures showed a consistent and large average tamoxifen-induced change in density over the first year, and a continued decline thereafter. However, these measures of density change at 1 year were not stable on an individual basis.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101
Pages (from-to)101
JournalBreast cancer research : BCR
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 29 Sept 2020


  • Breast density change
  • Mammographic density
  • Prevention
  • Tamoxifen


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