Some People Living with Obesity Avoid Cancer Screenings



Quality cancer screenings save the lives of millions of patients every year. Colonoscopy is the gold standard of colon cancer screening tests. It is the only procedure that can both detect and prevent colon cancer.

Because they fear their doctors’ judgment, some people who are overweight or obese skip life-saving cancer screening tests. They may avoid care or switch healthcare providers because of “stigmatizing experiences and poor communication with doctors.

British researchers published the report online in Obesity Science and Practice.

Delaying or avoiding cancer screenings like colonoscopy may be detrimental to a person’s health.

"The fear of being stigmatized may prevent people living with obesity from accessing cancer screening services, which are vital to early diagnosis and favorable outcomes," said lead researcher Yitka Graham in MedicalXpress.

Excess Weight Increases Colon Cancer Risk

Excess weight increases the risk of developing 12 types of cancer, including colon cancer. So, timely screenings are crucial for early diagnosis and prevention.

"Getting recommended cancer screenings is critically important for people with obesity, who may be at a higher risk for some cancers," Kristen Sullivan told Medical Xpress. Sullivan is the director of nutrition and physical activity at the American Cancer Society (ACS).

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 650 million adults worldwide are obese. If you weigh more than what is considered healthy for a given height, you are considered overweight or obese. Body Mass Index is a person’s weight in kilograms divided by the square of height in meters. A high BMI can indicate being overweight (BMI 25-<30) or obese (BMI >30).

In the report, women with higher BMIs were less likely to be screened for cervical cancer. Men who were overweight or obese were less likely to be screened for colon cancer, according to the report.

Reasons given for not getting screened included “embarrassment, negative body image and trouble with imaging equipment.

Graham said doctors need to encourage people to access cancer screening services without fear of stigma or judgment. Graham is head of the Helen McArdle Nursing and Care Research Institute at the University of Sunderland in the United Kingdom.

"This has implications for early clinical interventions needed to diagnose, assess and treat common cancers, with the consequence of potential adverse outcomes and increased cancer mortality for those living with obesity," Graham told MedicalXpress.

Don’t Delay Colon Cancer Screening

Individuals who are overweight or living with obesity risk their health when they avoid recommended colon cancer screenings.

The number of colorectal cancer cases has been increasing in adults ages 40-54 since the 1990s. Recently, healthcare agencies recommended that screenings begin at age 45 for people at average risk for the disease. Anyone with a family history of colon cancer or polyps should be screened earlier. People with digestive symptoms should consult their physician regardless of age.

In 2020, about 12 percent of all cases of colorectal cancer occurred in individuals younger than 50, according to the ACS. Patients diagnosed before age 50 were more likely to have advanced disease at diagnosis.

By 2030, it is estimated that 10.9 percent of all colon cancers and 22.9 percent of all rectal cancers will affect patients younger than 50.

Colorectal cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer death in the United States. With screenings starting at 45, the ACS reports that 60 percent of colon cancer fatalities could be prevented.

No matter your weight, if you are 45 or older, don’t delay colon cancer screening. Be proactive and take the first step by finding a doctor at one of our centers.