Delayed age-related lobular involution has been previously associated with elevated breast cancer risk. However, intraindividual variability in epithelial involution status within a woman is undefined. We developed a novel measure of age-related epithelial involution, density of epithelial nuclei in epithelial areas using digital image analysis in combination with stromal characteristics (percentage of section area comprising stroma). Approximately 1800 hematoxylin and eosin stained sections of benign breast tissue were evaluated from 416 participants having breast surgery for cancer or benign conditions. Two to sixteen slides per woman from different regions of the breast were studied. Epithelial involution status varied within a woman and as a function of stromal area. Percentage stromal area varied between samples from the same woman (median difference between highest and lowest stromal area within a woman was 7.5%, but ranged from 0.01 to 86.7%). Restricting to women with at least 10% stromal area (N = 317), epithelial nuclear density decreased with age (−637.1 cells/mm 2 per decade of life after age 40, p < 0.0001), increased with mammographic density (457.8 cells/mm 2 per increasing BI-RADs density category p = 0.002), and increased non-significantly with recent parity, later age at first pregnancy, and longer and more recent oral contraceptive use. These associations were attenuated in women with mostly fat samples (<10% stroma (N = 99)). Thirty-one percent of women evaluated had both adequate stroma (≥10%) and mostly fat (<10% stroma) regions of breast tissue, with the probability of having both types increasing with the number breast tissue samplings. Several breast cancer risk factors are associated with elevated age-related epithelial content, but associations depend upon stromal context. Stromal characteristics appear to modify relationships between risk factor exposures and breast epithelial involution.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Pathology and Forensic Medicine