Mammary collagen architecture and its association with mammographic density and lesion severity among women undergoing image-guided breast biopsy

Clara Bodelon, Maeve Mullooly, Ruth M. Pfeiffer, Shaoqi Fan, Mustapha Abubakar, Petra Lenz, Pamela M. Vacek, Donald L. Weaver, Sally D. Herschorn, Jason M. Johnson, Brian L. Sprague, Stephen Hewitt, John Shepherd, Serghei Malkov, Patricia J. Keely, Kevin W. Eliceiri, Mark E. Sherman, Matthew W. Conklin, Gretchen L. Gierach

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Elevated mammographic breast density is a strong breast cancer risk factor with poorly understood etiology. Increased deposition of collagen, one of the main fibrous proteins present in breast stroma, has been associated with increased mammographic density. Collagen fiber architecture has been linked to poor outcomes in breast cancer. However, relationships of quantitative collagen fiber features assessed in diagnostic biopsies with mammographic density and lesion severity are not well-established. Methods: Clinically indicated breast biopsies from 65 in situ or invasive breast cancer cases and 73 frequency matched-controls with a benign biopsy result were used to measure collagen fiber features (length, straightness, width, alignment, orientation and density (fibers/µm2)) using second harmonic generation microscopy in up to three regions of interest (ROIs) per biopsy: normal, benign breast disease, and cancer. Local and global mammographic density volumes were quantified in the ipsilateral breast in pre-biopsy full-field digital mammograms. Associations of fibrillar collagen features with mammographic density and severity of biopsy diagnosis were evaluated using generalized estimating equation models with an independent correlation structure to account for multiple ROIs within each biopsy section. Results: Collagen fiber density was positively associated with the proportion of stroma on the biopsy slide (p < 0.001) and with local percent mammographic density volume at both the biopsy target (p = 0.035) and within a 2 mm perilesional ring (p = 0.02), but not with global mammographic density measures. As severity of the breast biopsy diagnosis increased at the ROI level, collagen fibers tended to be less dense, shorter, straighter, thinner, and more aligned with one another (p < 0.05). Conclusions: Collagen fiber density was positively associated with local, but not global, mammographic density, suggesting that collagen microarchitecture may not translate into macroscopic mammographic features. However, collagen fiber features may be markers of cancer risk and/or progression among women referred for biopsy based on abnormal breast imaging.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number105
JournalBreast Cancer Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021


  • Breast diseases
  • Breast neoplasms
  • Breast pathology
  • Collagen fibers
  • Mammographic density
  • Second harmonic generation imaging

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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