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Genetically Predicted C-Reactive Protein Associated With Postmenopausal Breast Cancer Risk: Interrelation With Estrogen and Cancer Molecular Subtypes Using Mendelian Randomization



Immune-related etiologic pathways that influence breast cancer risk are incompletely understood and may be confounded by lifestyles or reverse causality. Using a Mendelian randomization (MR) approach, we investigated the potential causal relationship between genetically elevated C-reactive protein (CRP) concentrations and primary invasive breast cancer risk in postmenopausal women.


We used individual-level data obtained from 10,179 women, including 537 who developed breast cancer, from the Women's Health Initiative Database for Genotypes and Phenotypes Study, which consists of five genome-wide association (GWA) studies. We examined 61 GWA single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) previously associated with CRP. We employed weighted/penalized weighted-medians and MR gene-environment interactions that allow instruments' invalidity to some extent and attenuate the heterogeneous estimates of outlying SNPs.


In lifestyle-stratification analyses, genetically elevated CRP decreased risk for breast cancer in exogenous estrogen-only, estrogen + progestin, and past oral contraceptive (OC) users, but only among relatively short-term users (<5 years). Estrogen-only users for ≥5 years had more profound CRP-decreased breast cancer risk in dose-response fashion, whereas past OC users for ≥5 years had CRP-increased cancer risk. Also, genetically predicted CRP was strongly associated with increased risk for hormone-receptor positive or human epidermal growth factor receptor-2 negative breast cancer.


Our findings may provide novel evidence on the immune-related molecular pathways linking to breast cancer risk and suggest potential clinical use of CRP to predict the specific cancer subtypes. Our findings suggest potential interventions targeting CRP-inflammatory markers to reduce breast cancer risk.

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