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BACKGROUND: Greater early life adiposity has been reported to reduce postmenopausal breast cancer risk but it is unclear whether this association varies by tumour characteristics. We aimed to assess associations of early life body size with postmenopausal breast cancer and its subtypes, allowing for body size at other ages. METHODS: A total of 342,079 postmenopausal UK women who reported their body size at age 10, clothes size at age 20, and body mass index (BMI) at baseline (around age 60) were followed by record linkage to national databases for cancers and deaths. Cox regression yielded adjusted relative risks (RRs) of breast cancer, overall and by tumour subtype, in relation to body size at different ages. RESULTS: During an average follow-up of 14 years, 15,506 breast cancers were diagnosed. After adjustment for 15 potential confounders, greater BMI at age 60 was associated with an increased risk of postmenopausal breast cancer (RR per 5 kg/m2=1.20, 95%CI 1.18-1.22) whereas greater adiposity in childhood and, to a lesser extent, early adulthood, was associated with a reduced risk (0.70, 0.66-0.74, and 0.92, 0.89-0.96, respectively). Additional adjustment for midlife BMI strengthened associations with BMI at both age 10 (0.63, 0.60-0.68) and at age 20 (0.78, 0.75-0.81). The association with midlife adiposity was confined to hormone sensitive subtypes but early life adiposity had a similar impact on the risk of all subtypes. CONCLUSION: Early life and midlife adiposity have opposite effects on postmenopausal breast cancer risk and the biological mechanisms underlying these associations are likely to differ.

Original publication




Journal article


BMC Cancer

Publication Date





Adiposity, breast cancer subtypes, early life body size, oestrogen receptor status, postmenopausal breast cancer