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Keywords:

  • obesity;
  • body mass index;
  • mammogram;
  • Papanicolaou smear;
  • colonoscopy;
  • sigmoidoscopy;
  • occult blood;
  • literature review

Abstract

The literature examining obesity as a barrier to screening for breast, cervical, and colorectal cancer has not been evaluated systematically. With the increasing prevalence of obesity and its impact on cancer incidence and mortality, it is important to determine whether obesity is a barrier to screening so that cancers among women at increased risk because of their body size can be detected early or prevented entirely. On the basis of 32 relevant published studies (10 breast cancer studies, 14 cervical cancer studies, and 8 colorectal cancer studies), the authors reviewed the literature regarding associations between obesity and recommended screening tests for these cancer sites among women in the U.S. The most consistent associations between obesity and screening behavior were observed for cervical cancer. Most studies reported an inverse relation between decreased cervical cancer screening and increasing body size, and several studies reported that the association was more consistent among white women than among black women. For breast cancer, obesity was associated with decreased screening behavior among white women but not among black women. The literature regarding obesity and colorectal cancer screening adherence was mixed, with some studies reporting an inverse effect of body size on screening behavior and others reporting no effect. Overall, the results indicated that obesity most likely is a barrier to screening for breast and cervical cancers, particularly among white women; the evidence for colorectal cancer screening was inconclusive. Thus, efforts to identify barriers and increase screening for breast and cervical cancers may be targeted toward obese women, whereas outreach to all women should remain the objective for colorectal cancer screening programs. Cancer 2008. © 2008 American Cancer Society.