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Moles may predict breast cancer risk
June 10th, 2014
05:01 PM ET

Moles may predict breast cancer risk

Skin moles may indicate a woman's risk for breast cancer, according to two studies coming out this week in the journal PLOS Medicine. More moles could mean a slightly higher risk, particularly in middle-aged women, researchers say.

Scientists stress that this does not mean people with moles should panic.  The studies do not say if you have moles you will get breast cancer; researchers are still trying to figure out the link between the two.

A study in the United States and another in France followed almost 175,000 middle age women for about 20 years. They looked at women with few or no moles and compared their breast cancer risk to women who had lots of moles – defined in one study as more than 15 on one arm. The studies did not look at cancerous moles but moles in general.

"Women with a lot of moles are a little more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer than were women with very few moles," said Dr. Ted Gansler, director of medical content for the American Cancer Society, who was not affiliated with the study.

Experts don't think moles cause breast cancer. Instead the link may have something to do with estrogen and sex hormones, researchers say.

Breast cancer and moles are both affected by hormone levels. The American study found that women with higher levels of estrogen in their blood had more moles than their peers with lower hormone levels. Scientists know that most breast cancers are estrogen sensitive,  meaning estrogen drives cancer growth.

"Moles may be an indicator of a particular genetic make-up that predisposes women to be susceptible to cancer," said Barbara Fuhrman, author of an editorial published alongside the new studies and an epidemiologist at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

What this research points to, she says, is that moles and breast cancer may share a common cause. "If we can identify important causes, we can target them with interventions to reduce risk."

The study authors both say that more research is needed to determine the importance of mole counts in predicting breast cancer. A limitation of their studies was that most participants were white; future studies should include a more diverse groups of women, the authors say.

"At the moment it's quite early to say how we can use this, except that it could add to other markers of risk and point out to women with a higher risk that they should be more closely monitored," said Dr. Marie-Christine Boutron-Ruault, a study author and research director of Inserm (the French Institute of Health and Medical Research).


soundoff (14 Responses)
  1. Ian

    I thought they meant, like, the animals. That would be cute.

    June 11, 2014 at 12:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Sue Bednarski

    It is irresponsible to even print this. Moles "MAY" predict breast cancer risk??????......Without ANY scientific evidence. The medical press should really be held to a higher standard and not one dictated to them by pharmaceutical or specialty health care industries. Bad medical information "MAY" predict breast cancer risk. I "MAY" hear this quoted to me by many internet savvy in the near future.

    June 11, 2014 at 13:18 | Report abuse | Reply
    • mommypathdoc

      The article is based on a large clinical study that took place over many years. As a medical researcher, physician and author, I believe the conclusions are justified. But as a woman, I understand your frustration. Breast cancer is a terrible disease that every woman fears and we all wish we had definitive ways to determine individual risk.

      June 11, 2014 at 14:12 | Report abuse |
    • Mary

      There are many ethnic groups that have more moles than others also.. Native Americans for example.
      I wonder if they gave much thought to that part of the study.
      The thing with these studies is , if you live long enough they usually change their mind..
      So my advice is, take it with a grain of salt..
      Next study might say more moles means less risk.. !

      June 11, 2014 at 16:30 | Report abuse |
    • lisalou

      Sue,
      This is not necessarily "bad medical information." And it could be a case of visa-versa. I had breast cancer five years ago. One thing I learned throughout treatment is that a patient often gets the most helpful suggestions from people other than her doctor. While undergoing a scan, the technician said that she had heard that women with breast cancer may have a greater risk of devleoping melanoma in their lifetime. I thanked her and made an appointment with a dermatologist – who found a melanoma mole in the very earliest stage. I thank God for the technician and her casual comment that breast cancer survivors "MAY" be at higher risk for melanoma.

      June 11, 2014 at 16:39 | Report abuse |
  3. denise

    Ian, I thought the same thing....lol

    June 11, 2014 at 13:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. ram

    So where does that leave anyone? Same place they were. May? Maybe women with many moles see doctors more often to get the moles checked and therefore more cancers are found? Who knows. We come out of this reading with more doubt, maybe more concern, but no practical help or direction. Interesting, I guess. But would be more interesting with more info.

    June 11, 2014 at 13:32 | Report abuse | Reply
    • BobR

      This is how science really looks while in progress, sort of "how the sausage gets made". This paper was not really one ready for the general public. Science starts with ideas being tested ("hey, did you ever notice how many of our breast cancer patients have lots of moles? We should do a study to see if it's true"). From those studies analysis and conclusions are proposed followed by skepticism and challenges by other doing their own research. Eventually, settled facts emerge.

      June 11, 2014 at 15:03 | Report abuse |
  5. Hella Duve

    Yes , I have a lot of moles and yes I have breast cancer. Perhaps there is something to it.

    June 11, 2014 at 15:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Tessa2U

    As a woman that has many moles, I will think twice about postponing my mammogram after reading this article so I believe this serves a purpose. Thanks for the information!

    June 11, 2014 at 15:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. rad666

    I had a mole on my shoulder when I was young and my mother burnt it off with the tip of her Lucky Strike cigarettes.

    I do not have breast cancer.

    Maybe there is a link?

    June 11, 2014 at 16:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. armadatech

    I think what everyone should keep in mind is that these crummy "news" articles distill a 20-year-long study of 175,000 people into a 400 word article. I'm not sure whether its more the blame of the authors who are poorly skilled at explaining or the editors who decide we need it sufficiently dumbed down, but oftentimes we end up with watered down garbage that makes the science seem pointless.

    Instead, I highly recommend reading about stuff like this either A) directly from the peer-reviewed article which you CAN do, or B) reading/listening about the research from a reputable science news source.

    June 11, 2014 at 16:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Scientist

    This study equally means that breast cancer causes outbreaks of moles on the arms. An association is just an association. It could be, as they say, estrogen levels. I don't blame the scientists – you have to report what you find, whether it's the outcome of a planned study or a stumbled-upon finding. I **do** blame the journalists who insist every study be made "relevant" to the masses. I've had my own studies dumbed down to the point of meaninglessness, with journalists saying that what the study was really about is not interesting to the readers/viewers, so let's talk about this peripheral thing instead. And no, universities don't usually get finding to study the obvious. Again, it's usually some student project that gets inflated out of proportion by some media person because it's perceived to be engaging to the public, and it is, for all the wrong reasons. If the public doesn't want to read real science, maybe journalists should just give up instead of giving them quasi science instead.

    June 21, 2014 at 11:12 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Scientist

      Pardon my typo. The i is next to the u. That was supposed to be "universities don't usually get funding to study the obvious".

      June 21, 2014 at 11:14 | Report abuse |

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