breast cancer screening

Should overweight women be screened more often?

If you need a reason – another reason – to keep tabs on your weight, a recent study from Sweden has provided just that: according to the report, cancerous breast lumps are less likely to be detected in overweight or obese women before the tumour becomes large, sparking a call for more breast cancer screening in the form of frequent mammograms.

The study – carried out by the Karolinksa Institute in Stockholm – involved 2,012 women who developed breast cancer between 2001 and 2008, who had been receiving mammograms every 18 months to two years – the standard length of time in Sweden. The researchers examined the size of the tumours at diagnosis, as well as the women’s body mass index (BMI), a measure of obesity.

The research team’s conclusions were that women who were overweight were more likely to have a larger tumour when detected either at their mammogram or between screenings, but the reason for this was wasn’t clear-cut. It may be because their breasts were larger – and therefore the tumour was harder to find – or because their weight gain had caused their tumours to grow at a faster rate.

The pros and cons of more breast cancer screening

As we know, larger tumours tend to carry a much higher danger, so the results of this research have serious consequences. However, the jury is still out on the need for a reduced length between breast screenings, with certain experts claiming that more evidence is needed.

Dr Fredrik Strand, the lead author of the study, claimed that the research proved a need for more screening. “Our study suggests that when a clinician presents the pros and cons of breast cancer screening to the patient, having high BMI should be an important ‘pro’ argument. In addition, our findings suggest that women with high BMI should consider shorter time intervals between screenings.”

However, Sophia Lowes, speaking on behalf of Cancer Research UK, pointed out that it wasn’t as simple as that. “Breast screening has harms as well as benefits,” she claimed, in an interview with BBC News. “It saves lives by helping detect breast cancer at an early stage, but harms include some women being diagnosed with a cancer that would never have caused them problems in their lifetime. The time between screening is designed to help the benefits outweigh the harms overall.”

The facts on fat and breast cancer

According to the World Health Organisation, roughly six out of ten women in Britain are classified as overweight or obese, and it’s becoming a problem for many reasons, as another study released this month makes clear. According to the study, which has been published in The Lancet, researchers at Imperial College London concluded that about 800,000 new cancer cases per year are caused by being overweight or diabetic – and overweight women are twice as likely to develop cancer as overweight men, with breast cancer being the most common incidence of cancer. So if you feel you’re carrying a bit too much weight, here’s your incentive to get your diet and exercise regime right for 2018.