Serum hormone levels and normal breast histology among premenopausal women

M. Sherman, T. de Bel, M. Heckman, L. White, J. Ogony, M. Stallings-Mann, T. Hilton, A. Degnim, R. Vierkant, T. Hoskin, M. Jensen, L. Pacheco-Spann, J. Henry, A. Storniolo, J. Carter, S. Winham, D. Radisky and J. van der Laak

Breast Cancer Research and Treatment 2022;194:149-158.


Breast terminal duct lobular units (TDLUs) are the main source of breast cancer (BC) precursors. Higher serum concentrations of hormones and growth factors have been linked to increased TDLU numbers and to elevated BC risk, with variable effects by menopausal status. We assessed associations of circulating factors with breast histology among premenopausal women using artificial intelligence (AI) and preliminarily tested whether parity modifies associations. Pathology AI analysis was performed on 316 digital images of H&E-stained sections of normal breast tissues from Komen Tissue Bank donors ages <= 45 years to assess 11 quantitative metrics. Associations of circulating factors with AI metrics were assessed using regression analyses, with inclusion of interaction terms to assess effect modification. Higher prolactin levels were related to larger TDLU area (p < 0.001) and increased presence of adipose tissue proximate to TDLUs (p < 0.001), with less significant positive associations for acini counts (p = 0.012), dilated acini (p = 0.043), capillary area (p = 0.014), epithelial area (p = 0.007), and mononuclear cell counts (p = 0.017). Testosterone levels were associated with increased TDLU counts (p < 0.001), irrespective of parity, but associations differed by adipose tissue content. AI data for TDLU counts generally agreed with prior visual assessments. Among premenopausal women, serum hormone levels linked to BC risk were also associated with quantitative features of normal breast tissue. These relationships were suggestively modified by parity status and tissue composition. We conclude that the microanatomic features of normal breast tissue may represent a marker of BC risk.