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Women's Health

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Obese Women Missing Cancer Tests?

Obesity May Be a Hurdle to Cancer Screening for Some Women, Study Shows
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

March 24, 2008 -- Obesity may be hindering some women from getting routine cancer screening.

That's according to a new review of 32 U.S. studies on breast cancer, colorectal cancer, and cervical cancer screening.

The review makes these three points:

  • Overweight and obese women were less likely than leaner women to report recent cervical cancer screening.
  • Overweight or obese white women were less likely than leaner white women to report getting a recent mammogram. That wasn't true for African-American women.
  • Women's colorectal cancer screening rates were low, regardless of BMI (body mass index). The data were inconclusive about whether extra weight worsened those screening rates.

The review doesn't explain why obesity affects cancer screening rates. But the reviewers -- who included Sarah Cohen, MS, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's School of Public Health -- have some theories.

Some women may be self-conscious about their weight, or they may dread getting lectured about their weight by their doctor, or they may be put off by gowns that are too small and other inconveniences in doctors' offices, Cohen's team notes.

Other factors, including health insurance and income, may also be involved.

It's important for all women to get routine cancer screening. Because extra weight is associated with increased risk of some cancers, Cohen and colleagues want to see more studies done to find ways to encourage heavier women to get cancer screening.

Cohen's review appears in today's advance online edition of Cancer and is due for publication in the journal's May 1 print edition.

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