Background: History of breast cancer has been reported as a risk factor for colorectal cancer in women. In view of the ambiguous nature of existing evidence and the growing interest in targeted colorectal cancer prevention, we sought to quantify this risk. Methods: We used the Surveillance Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) database to estimate risk of colorectal cancer after breast-cancer diagnosis in women with first incident breast cancer between 1974 and 1995. Observed colon and rectal cancer risk was compared with that expected in the general population. We stratified comparisons by age at breast-cancer diagnosis, stage of cancer, ethnic origin of patient, and follow-up time. Findings: Overall, women with previous breast cancer were 5% less likely (95% CI 1-9) to develop colon and 13% less likely (6-19) to develop rectal cancer than women in the general population. Stratified analyses suggested that the risk reductions observed for colon and rectal cancer were most pronounced for women with breast cancer diagnosed after age 65 years, in white women, women with local stage breast cancer, and women diagnosed in the later study years (1990-94). Interpretations: Breast cancer does not increase subsequent colorectal cancer risk, and reduced risk was seen for certain subgroups of women. Because no biologically plausible endogenous protective factor has been identified, we suggest that reduced risk could stem from an accumulation of exposures that increase breast-cancer frequency but protect against colorectal cancer.
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