Breast tissue composition and its dependence on demographic risk factors for breast cancer: Non-invasive assessment by Time Domain diffuse optical spectroscopy

Paola Taroni, Giovanna Quarto, Antonio Pifferi, Francesca Abbate, Nicola Balestreri, Simona Menna, Enrico Cassano, Rinaldo Cubeddu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background Breast tissue composition is recognized as a strong and independent risk factor for breast cancer. It is a heritable feature, but is also significantly affected by several other elements (e.g., age, menopause). Nowadays it is quantified by mammographic density, thus requiring the use of ionizing radiation. Optical techniques are absolutely non-invasive and have already proved effective in the investigation of biological tissues, as they are sensitive to tissue composition and structure. Methods Time domain diffuse optical spectroscopy was performed at 7 wavelengths (635-1060 nm) on 200 subjects to derive their breast tissue composition (in terms of water, lipid and collagen content), blood parameters (total hemoglobin content and oxygen saturation level), and information on the microscopic structure (scattering amplitude and power). The dependence of all optically-derived parameters on age, menopausal status, body mass index, and use of oral contraceptives, and the correlation with mammographic density were investigated. Results Younger age, premenopausal status, lower body mass index values, and use of oral contraceptives all correspond to significantly higher water, collagen and total hemoglobin content, and lower lipid content (always p <0.05 and often p <10-4), while oxygen saturation level and scattering parameters show significant dependence only on some conditions. Even when age-adjusted groups of subjects are compared, several optically derived parameters (and in particular always collagen and total hemoglobin content) remain significantly different. Conclusions Time domain diffuse optical spectroscopy can probe non-invasively breast tissue composition and physiologic blood parameters, and provide information on tissue structure. The measurement is suitable for in vivo studies and monitoring of changes in breast tissue (e.g., with age, lifestyle, chemotherapy, etc.) and to gain insight into related processes, like the origin of cancer risk associated with breast density.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0128941
JournalPLoS One
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 1 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Medicine(all)


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