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Women under the age of 50 who have atypical hyperplasia (a type of benign breast disease) are more than six times more likely to develop breast cancer than women in the general population. These results were presented at the 2008 San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium.

Benign breast disease refers to several types of noncancerous changes in breast tissue. Studies have suggested that risk of breast cancer is higher among women with particular types of benign breast disease.

Three categories of benign breast disease include atypical hyperplasia, proliferative disease without atypia, and non-proliferative disease.

In atypical hyperplasia, the number of cells within the ducts or lobules of the breast is increased, and these cells appear abnormal under the microscope. In proliferative disease without atypia, there is also an increase in the number of cells, but these cells appear normal. Finally, in non-proliferative disease, women have fibrocystic changes within the breast but no increase in cell number.

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To explore the relationship between benign breast disease and breast cancer among women under the age of 50, researchers at the Mayo Clinic evaluated information from more than 4,000 women with benign breast disease. Two percent had been diagnosed with atypical hyperplasia, 26% had been diagnosed with proliferative disease without atypia, and 72% had been diagnosed with non-proliferative disease.

During 20 years of follow-up, 326 of the women were diagnosed with breast cancer.

  • Atypical hyperplasia carried the great risk of breast cancer, followed by proliferative disease without atypia. Compared with women in the general population, risk of breast cancer was more than six times higher among women with atypical hyperplasia and two times higher among women with proliferative disease without atypia.
  • Risk of breast cancer among women with non-proliferative disease was only slightly higher than among women in the general population.

This study confirms previous reports of an elevated risk of breast cancer among women with benign breast disease. The elevation in risk is greatest among women with atypical hyperplasia.

Reference: Ghosh K, Pankratz VS, Reynolds CA et al. Benign breast disease and breast cancer risk in young women. Presented at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium. December 13, 2008. Abstract 62.