High triglycerides and low levels of high density lipoprotein (HDL)-cholesterol are observed to promote tumor growth. However, whether breast cancer heterogeneity may explain the contradictory influence of triglycerides and cholesterol observed on breast cancer prognosis remains unclear.
A population-based survival study among 464 breast cancer cases identified within the Tromsø study was conducted. Pre-diagnostic triglycerides, total-cholesterol and HDL-cholesterol were measured, and detailed clinical and histopathological data were obtained. Using tissue microarray, all breast cancer cases were reclassified into the following subtypes: Luminal A, Luminal B, HER2-enriched, and triple negative breast cancer (TNBC). Multivariable Cox proportional hazards regression models were used to study the associations between pre-diagnostic lipids and breast cancer recurrence, mortality, and survival.
A total of 464 breast cancer patients, with mean age at diagnosis of 57.9 years, were followed for a mean 8.4 years. TNBC patients in the highest tertile of triglycerides (= 1.23 mmol/l) had 3 times higher overall mortality compared to TNBC patients in the lowest tertile (= 0.82 mmol/l) (HR 2.99, 95% CI 1.17-7.63), and the 5-year overall survival was 19% lower for TNBC patients in the highest vs. lowest tertile of triglycerides (65% vs. 84%). TNBC patients in the highest tertile of the HDL-cholesterol/total-cholesterol ratio (=0.35), compared to those in the lowest tertile (=0.27), had a 67% reduced overall mortality risk (HR 0.33, 95% CI 0.12-0.89). No associations were observed between lipids and prognostic outcome among breast cancer patients overall, or among patients with luminal A and luminal B subtypes. Among HER2-enriched patients, pre-diagnostic triglyceride level was inversely associated with overall mortality.
Our study suggests that pre-diagnostic triglycerides and the HDL-cholesterol/total-cholesterol ratio may independently provide unique information regarding prognostic outcome among triple negative breast cancer patients. However, a small sample size underlines the need for additional studies.