Androgens, notably testosterone inhibit breast cell proliferation and negative correlations between free testosterone (fT) and breast cell proliferation as well as mammographic density have been described. Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is reported to be a partial androgen antagonist in breast tumor cells in vitro. Our aim was to investigate if circulating DHEA had any effects on the association between circulating fT and mammographic density in vivo in the normal postmenopausal breast.
We measured visual and digitized mammographic density and serum DHEA, testosterone, sex-hormone-binding globulin and calculated fT in 84 healthy untreated postmenopausal women.
Significant negative correlations between fT and both visual and digitized mammographic density were strengthened when the median DHEA level decreased from 10.2 to 8.6 nmol/L. Thereafter, correlations became weaker again probably due to decreasing fT levels and/or sample size. There were no correlations between mammographic density and DHEA, at any of the DHEA concentration ranges studied. Serum levels of fT and DHEA were positively correlated.
Our findings demonstrate that circulating DHEA and/or its metabolites counteract the inhibitory action of fT on mammographic breast density.