Composition of fat in breast tissue has a bearing on cancer risk

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NYU-Langone researchers have shown an association between high levels of saturated fat in breast adipose tissue with breast cancer in postmenopausal women.

After acquiring breast MR spectroscopy images from 89 high-risk women, Melanie Freed, PhD, and colleagues estimated fractions of monounsaturated fatty acid (MUFA), polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) and saturated fatty acid (SFA) in the breast adipose tissue.

Of 31 postmenopausal women in the cohort, MUFA was lower and SFA was higher for women with invasive ductal carcinoma than for those with benign tissue.

Meanwhile, in women with benign lesions, postmenopausal women had higher PUFA and lower SFA than premenopausal women.

The team found no significant correlation between body mass index and fatty acids in breast tissue, which may further single out saturated fat in breast tissue as a risk factor or cancer indicator.

In all, 49 patients had benign breast tissue, 12 had ductal carcinoma and 28 had invasive ductal carcinoma.

In their study report, published online June 7 in Radiology, Freed and team describe their work developing a novel spectroscopy method, 3D multiple gradient-echo MR imaging, which they used to glean information on the types of fatty acids.

They acquired the images in a five-minute additional scan given to all 89 women at the end of their diagnostic MRI exams.

The authors acknowledge small sample size and high-risk patient cohort as study limitations.

Nevertheless, the study project successfully demonstrated “a rapid method that can be used to acquire MR imaging spectra during a standard clinical diagnostic imaging session,” the authors wrote.

“Our study demonstrated that, for postmenopausal women, low monounsaturated and high saturated fatty acids may be associated with invasive ductal carcinoma, which potentially makes them useful indicators of the presence of breast cancer,” they concluded.

Fractions of fatty acids in breast adipose tissue, they added, “may be important factors to consider for cancer diagnosis and/or understanding the underlying mechanisms behind cancer development in individual patients.”