ARTICLE ABSTRACTThis study investigated the effect of a broad range of dietary ratios of n-3:n-6 fatty acids on mammary gland density and mammary cancer risk. Cancer was induced in female rats by N-methyl-N-nitrosourea. Purified diet that provided 30% of dietary kilocalories from fat was formulated to contain ratios of n-3:n-6 fatty acids from 25:1 to 1:25. Mammary gland density was determined by digital analysis, fatty acids by gas chromatography/flame ionization detection, and other plasma analytes via ELISA. Mammary gland density was reduced dose dependently at n-3:n-6 ratios from 1:1 to 25:1 (r = −0.477, P = 0.038), with a 20.3% decrease of mammary gland density between n-3:n-6 of 1:1 versus 25:1, P < 0.001. Mammary carcinogenesis was inhibited in the absence or presence of tamoxifen (1 mg/kg diet) in a manner predicted by mammary gland density. Plasma n-3 fatty acid concentrations failed to increase above an n-3:n-6 ratio of 5:1, and changes in specific plasma n-3 or n-6 fatty acids were not predictive of mammary gland density or cancer inhibitory activity. A strong reciprocal effect of the n-3:n-6 ratio on plasma leptin (decreased, P = 0.005) and adiponectin (increased, P < 0.001) was observed indicating adipose tissue function was modulated. However, neither cytokine was predictive of mammary gland density. Plasma insulin-like growth factor I (IGF-I) decreased with increasing dietary n-3:n-6 ratio (P = 0.004) and was predictive of the changes in mammary gland density (r = 0.362, P < 0.005). These findings indicate that (i) mammary gland density predicted the carcinogenic response, (ii) the n-3:n-6 ratio exerts effects in the presence or absence of hormonal regulation of carcinogenesis, and (iii) signaling pathways regulated by IGF-I are potential targets for further mechanistic investigation. Cancer Prev Res; 4(10); 1675–85. ©2011 AACR.