Patients Skip Colon Cancer Screenings Because of Obesity Stigma

Early diagnosis of diseases like colon cancer saves millions of lives each year. Getting a quality cancer screening test is important to diagnose diseases early.

Unfortunately, some patients who are overweight or obese are avoiding life-saving cancer screenings. British researchers reported some patients fear their doctor’s judgment about their weight. The report  was published online in Obesity Science and Practice.

Delaying or avoiding cancer screening tests like colonoscopy may hurt a person’s health. Lead researcher Yitka Graham said these screenings are “vital to early diagnosis  and favorable outcomes.”

In the report, women living with obesity 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 review.

People avoided screenings because of “embarrassment, negative body image and trouble with imaging equipment.”

Excess Weight Increases Colon Cancer Risk

If your weight is higher than what is considered healthy for your height, you may be overweight or obese. Body Mass Index (BMI) 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).

According to the World Health Organization, 650 million adults worldwide are obese.

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 MedicalXpress. Sullivan is the director of nutrition and physical activity at the American Cancer Society (ACS).

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

“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.

Sullivan said some doctors are educating themselves on how to reduce biases and stereotypes against patients with higher BMIs.

In the meantime, Sullivan told MedicalXpress that people who are overweight or obese must be their own advocates.

Don’t Delay Colon Cancer Screening

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, 10.9 percent of all colon cancers and 22.9 percent of all rectal cancers will affect patients younger than 50. This is compared with 4.8 percent and 9.5 percent, respectively, in 2010.

Colorectal cancer cases have been increasing in adults ages 40-54. Recently, healthcare agencies started recommending screenings begin at 45 for people at average risk for the disease. If you have a family history of colon cancer or polyps, you should be screened earlier. People with digestive symptoms should consult their physician regardless of age.

Individuals with higher BMIs risk their health by avoiding recommended colon cancer screenings.

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.

Many screening methods are available, but a quality colonoscopy is the gold standard. This procedure allows your doctor to see the entire length of the colon to examine for and remove precancerous polyps. It is the only screening that can both detect and prevent colon cancer.

No matter your weight, if you are 45 or older, don’t delay colon cancer screening. Take the first step to better health and schedule a quality colonoscopy.