The Impact of Obesity on Gynecologic Cancer Screening: An Integrative Literature Review


  • Tess Aldrich MSc, APRN,

    Corresponding authorSearch for more papers by this author
    • Tess Aldrich, MSc, APRN, is as a nurse practitioner at Housing Works-Women's Health Center in Brooklyn, NY.

  • Barbara Hackley CNM, MS

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    • Barbara Hackley, CNM, MS, is an associate professor at the Yale University School of Nursing, New Haven, CT, and provides clinical care at the South Bronx Health Center for Children and Families, Bronx, NY.

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Introduction: Evidence indicates lower rates of breast and cervical cancer screening among obese compared to nonobese women. This integrative review examines the association between gynecologic cancer screening and body weight, as well as potential barriers to screening.

Methods: A literature search of standard computerized databases was conducted for peer-reviewed articles published between 1950 and January 2009.

Results: Twenty-three studies met the criteria for review. Of the 17 studies that evaluated rates of cervical cancer screening, 13 found obese women significantly less likely than their nonobese counterparts to have had a recent Papanicolaou test, a trend that was stronger in white women when compared to African American women. Eight of the 15 studies examining routine mammography found an inverse association between increasing body weight and recent screening, although findings generally pertained only to women who were white and/or severely obese. Possible barriers to care included embarrassment and perceived weight stigma in the clinical setting, lack of appropriately sized examination equipment, and poor patient–provider communication.

Discussion: Further research is needed to clarify the challenges that obese women face in accessing care and to evaluate strategies such as ensuring the availability of appropriate equipment and supplies, the use of alternative screening methodologies, and more culturally sensitive counseling approaches that may improve screening rates in obese women.

J Midwifery Womens Health 2010;55:344–356 © 2010 by the American College of Nurse-Midwives.