A new study being presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America has suggested that women with higher body mass index (BMI) may be at increased risk of being diagnosed with larger breast tumours, and that women with higher BMI may therefore benefit from shorter intervals between their mammography appointments.
BMI is a measure of body fat based on a woman’s height and weight, with ‘overweight’ being defined as a BMI of 25 or more. In a new study of 2,012 breast cancer patients diagnosed between 2001 and 2008, researchers at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden analysed the risk factors associated with patients whose tumours were larger than 2 centimetres (cm) at diagnosis, and followed the patients until 2015 to investigate the implications for their long-term prognosis.
For cancers detected at screening, both BMI and breast density were associated with having a large tumour at diagnosis. However, for cancers detected between routine mammograms, only BMI was linked with having a large tumour – and women with higher BMI had worse prognoses than women with lower BMI among these ‘interval cancers’.
Sally Greenbrook, Policy Manager at Breast Cancer Now, said:
“We hope to see risk-stratified screening introduced in the coming years, offering women screening based on their individual risk due to their genetic, lifestyle and biological factors like breast density – and it’s interesting to see that BMI could also be a factor to consider. Ultimately, we want to be able to offer more screening to those most at risk, and less to those at least risk, maximising the benefits of routine screening while minimising the risks.
“But while this is a thought-provoking finding, this research is at an early stage and further validation is needed before BMI might have any impact on the regularity of breast screening in the UK.
“Currently, women in the UK are offered routine mammograms every three years from the ages of 50-70. Comprehensive evidence has shown that screening prevents deaths from breast cancer and we’d encourage all women to attend these appointments where possible.
“But it’s also crucial that women of all ages check their breasts regularly, getting to know what looks and feels normal for them and reporting any unusual changes to their doctor.”