A Prospective Study of Plasma Total Cysteine and Risk of Breast Cancer

Shumin M. Zhang, Walter C. Willett, Jacob Selhub, Jo Ann E. Manson, Graham A. Colditz, Susan E. Hankinson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

33 Scopus citations


Cysteine is the precursor of glutathione, a powerful intracellular antioxidant and an important detoxifying agent of carcinogens. However, data relating plasma total cysteine to breast cancer risk are sparse. We conducted a prospective nested case-control study among 32,826 women in the Nurses' Health Study who provided blood specimens during 1989-1990. Through 1996, a total of 712 incident breast cancer cases were identified and individually matched to 712 controls by year of birth, time of day that blood was drawn, fasting status, month of blood sampling, recent use of postmenopausal hormones at the time of blood collection, and menopausal status. Conditional logistic regression with adjustment for other risk factors for breast cancer was used to estimate the relative risks and 95% confidence intervals of breast cancer by levels of plasma total cysteine. Higher plasma total cysteine concentrations were significantly associated with a lower risk of breast cancer. For women in the highest quintile of plasma total cysteine, compared with those in the lowest quintile, the multivariate relative risk was 0.44 (95% confidence interval, 0.26-0.74). This association was dose dependent (P for trend = 0.002) and independent of plasma measures of folate, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, and total homocysteine. The inverse association between plasma total cysteine concentrations and risk of breast cancer was not significantly modified by other risk factors for breast cancer, except that a stronger association was observed among women who were leaner. The findings from this prospective study suggest that higher plasma concentrations of total cysteine predict a reduced risk of breast cancer. Cysteine or its precursors might have the potential to be chemopreventive against breast cancer.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1188-1193
Number of pages6
JournalCancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention
Issue number11 II
StatePublished - Nov 1 2003
Externally publishedYes

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'A Prospective Study of Plasma Total Cysteine and Risk of Breast Cancer'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

  • Cite this

    Zhang, S. M., Willett, W. C., Selhub, J., Manson, J. A. E., Colditz, G. A., & Hankinson, S. E. (2003). A Prospective Study of Plasma Total Cysteine and Risk of Breast Cancer. Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention, 12(11 II), 1188-1193.