Obese White Women & Colon Cancer Screening

colon cancer screeningObese white women are less likely to get recommended colon cancer screening than thinner white women, or black people of any gender or weight, according to a new study published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention. Obesity is a risk factor for colon cancer, and obese people are at an increased risk of death from the disease, which makes this finding particularly troubling.  One hypothesis about this relationship is that high levels of insulin or insulin-related growth factors in obese people may promote colon cancer development.  Men and women between the ages of 50 and 75 are advised to undergo a colon cancer screening periodically, with the two most common screening methods being colonoscopy and fecal occult blood test. However, the study found that only 20 percent of women and 24 percent of men over age 50 are getting colonoscopies.

For this study, the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine researchers carefully reviewed 23 published studies that included data on colon cancer screening and body mass index (BMI). They found that overall there was not a significant link between higher BMI and lower rates of colon cancer screening; however, white women with a BMI of 30-35 were 13% less likely to be screened, and white women with a BMI of 40 or higher were 27% less likely to be screened, compared to normal-weight white women. The study authors suggest that this trend may be due to feeling stigmatized or embarrassed to undress for the screenings, or because they may be dealing with other higher-priority health issues.

We spoke with Dr. Thomas Brown, expert weight loss surgeon in Colorado about the study. He told us that most colorectal cancers develop from adenomatous polyps which initially are benign, but with time can progress to a colon cancer.  He said: “While the risk for developing colon cancer is only 5%, regular screening and the removal of any polyps found will reduce the risk of developing colon cancer by 90%.  This study highlights how vitally important routine screening is.  It reminds us to be vigilant in encouraging our patients to undergo screening whether it be mammography for early detection of breast cancer or colonoscopy for early detection of colon cancer.” Dr. Brown concluded that “these data confirm that lack of routine screening can unfortunately increase the rate of cancers, particularly in obese women.”

Additional Resources:

Earlier research by the Johns Hopkins research team also found that obese white women are less likely to undergo screening for cervical cancer, as well as mammography screening for breast cancer. You can read more about the research here.

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