The associations of atrial fibrillation with the risks of incident invasive breast and colorectal cancers

Sylvia Wassertheil-Smoller, Aileen P. McGinn, Lisa Martin, Beatriz L. Rodriguez, Marcia L. Stefanick, Marco Perez

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Atrial fibrillation (AF) is a common arrhythmia that poses a significant risk of stroke. Cross-sectional and casecontrol studies have shown evidence of associations between AF and breast or colorectal cancer, but there have been no longitudinal studies in which this has been assessed. We prospectively examined a cohort of 93,676 postmenopausal women enrolled in the Women's Health Initiative from 1994 to 1998 to determine whether there are relationships between baseline AF and the development of invasive breast or colorectal cancer. The prevalence of self-reported physician diagnosis of AF at baseline was 5.1%. Over approximately 15 years of follow-up, the incidence of invasive breast cancer was 5.7%, and the incidence of colorectal cancer was 1.6%. Adjusted hazard ratios and 95% confidence intervals were obtained using Cox proportional hazards models. We found no significant association between AF and incident colorectal cancer, but we did see a 19% excess risk of invasive breast cancer among those with AF (adjusted hazard ratio (HR) = 1.19, 95% confidence interval (CI): 1.03, 1.38). Additional adjustment for baseline use of cardiac glycosides attenuated the association between AF and invasive breast cancer (HR = 1.01, 95% CI: 0.85, 1.20). Cardiac glycoside use was strongly associated with incident invasive breast cancer (HR = 1.68, 95% CI: 1.33, 2.12) independent of AF and other confounders. Mechanisms of the associations among breast cancer, AF, and cardiac glycosides need further investigation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)372-384
Number of pages13
JournalAmerican Journal of Epidemiology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Mar 1 2017


  • Atrial fibrillation
  • Breast cancer
  • Cardiac glycosides
  • Colorectal cancer
  • Digoxin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology


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