Birth weight, weight over the adult life course and risk of breast cancer

Juhua Luo, Xiwei Chen, Jo Ann E. Manson, Aladdin H. Shadyab, Jean Wactawski-Wende, Mara Vitolins, Thomas E. Rohan, Ting Yuan D. Cheng, Zhenzhen Zhang, Lihong Qi, Michael Hendryx

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Breast cancer has been suggested to potentially have prenatal origins. We examined associations between birth weight, body mass index (BMI) at four-time points over 25 years of adulthood, and risk of postmenopausal breast cancer, with emphasis on whether the association between birth weight and risk of breast cancer was mediated by weight and height changes over the adult life course. Postmenopausal women (n = 70,397) aged 50–79 years without breast cancer at enrollment (1993–1998) were followed up to 25 years. Weight and height were measured at baseline. Birth weight, and weights at ages 18, 35 and 50 were self-reported. Breast cancer cases were centrally adjudicated. Compared to women with birth weight of 6–8 pounds, women with birth weight of <6 pounds had lower risk of breast cancer (HR = 0.88 95% CI: 0.79–0.99). 44% and 21% of the relationship between birth weight and breast cancer risk was mediated by adult height and weight at baseline, respectively. Birth weight of 8 pounds or more was not associated with risk of postmenopausal breast cancer. Weight gain in adulthood was associated with increased risk of breast cancer regardless of time periods. In conclusion, lower birthweight was associated with lower risk of postmenopausal breast cancer, and this reduction in risk was significantly mediated by childhood or adolescent growth, especially by adult height. Our data suggest that reaching and maintaining a healthy weight during adulthood is key in the prevention of breast cancer.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)65-75
Number of pages11
JournalInternational Journal of Cancer
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 1 2020


  • birthweight
  • breast cancer
  • mediation
  • postmenopausal women
  • weight gain

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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