fertility and breast cancer

Fertility and breast cancer – a new link discovered

An American research team has conducted a study of anti-Mullerian hormone (AMH) – which indicates the size of a woman’s ovarian reserve – and have concluded that women with high levels of it can be up to 60%  more likely to develop breast cancer, compared to women with low levels of the hormone.

The hormone – which can be detected with a simple blood test – is naturally secreted in cells which develop egg sacs, and its level is usually checked and monitored during fertility tests, as an indicator of a woman’s ovarian reserve – in other words, it’s a good indicator of a woman’s fertility, or otherwise.

It’s also used as a marker of time to menopause: those with higher AMH levels for their age tend to reach menopause later in life, but for most of us our AMH levels peak in our early twenties and then tail off. But the results of these new findings have alerted to the medical community to the possibility of keeping tabs on it during cancer testing.

A ‘possible biomarker’

The study – conducted by researchers at the New York University School of Medicine – involved an analysis of blood samples from almost 6,000 premenopausal women across the United States of America, Italy, Sweden and the UK. This valuable data had been collected from ten separate studies (including one from the Breast Cancer Now Generations Study at The Institute of Cancer Research, London), and the goal was to conduct the most intensive examination yet of the association of AMH levels with breast cancer risk.

Their findings, published in the International Journal of Cancer, concluded that women with the highest levels of the hormone were more likely to develop breast cancer – leading them to state that AMH is a ‘possible biomarker’ for breast cancer.

“The link we found between anti-Mullerian hormone and breast cancer risk is interesting because few markers of risk in the blood have been identified for premenopausal women,” said Professor Anne Zeleniuch-Jacquotte, the lead author of the study.

“Our study found a moderate risk increase, and we hope additional markers can now be found to help substantially improve individual risk prediction.”

A key to earlier breast cancer detection?

Co-author Anthony Swerdlow, professor of epidemiology at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, who leads the Breast Cancer Now Generations Study – a landmark prospective study of the causes of breast cancer that is following over 113,000 UK women for 40 years – added; “In future, anti-Mullerian hormone could be factored into new ways of predicting individual women’s risk of developing the disease. The causes of breast cancer are highly complex and not yet fully understood. Pooling together large datasets is key to understanding how the many different causes interact and affect breast cancer risk.’

In an era where more women are being diagnosed with breast cancer than ever before – thanks to a vast improvement in detection technology – this study could open up another avenue on the journey towards understanding cancer.