Background: The incidence rate of breast cancer in first-degree relatives of women with breast cancer has been hypothesized to become constant at a predetermined age in accordance with observations of a high, roughly constant incidence rate of contralateral breast cancer by age. We attempted to test this hypothesis in the Danish population with cancer registry data.
Methods: We determined the age-specific incidence rates of contralateral breast cancer in Danish women who had a first breast cancer before they were 50 years of age and the rates of breast cancer among their first-degree female relatives during 1943 to 1999. The observed rates were tested for trends χ2 test or evaluated in Cox proportional hazard models.
Results: A high incidence rate of contralateral breast cancer was observed in women aged 25–44 years, followed by a decreasing rate, which reached a level corresponding to the rate per breast in the general female population at age 65. At ages older than the index patients age at diagnosis, their first-degree female relatives showed significantly increasing incidence rates of breast cancer by age, with a relatively constant absolute difference of 187 breast cancers per 100,000 person-years between the observed rates and the expected rates.
Conclusion: The rate of contralateral breast cancer is particular high at young ages but the excess ebbs as the cohort ages, perhaps due to elimination of predisposed individuals at early ages from the cohort of survivors. First-degree relatives seem to share breast cancer susceptibility genes with the family proband resulting in a constant excess rate of breast cancer throughout life.