RSNA 2017: Breast tumors may be more difficult to detect in overweight women

Being overweight is associated with a host of deleterious effects for an individual’s health, including increased risk for hypertension, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Now, research presented Nov. 27 at RSNA 2017 connected difficulties in detecting breast cancer in women with higher body mass indexes (BMI).  

Researchers from the Karolinska Institute in Solna, Sweden, led by Fredrik Strand, MD, found a link between higher BMI and difficulty in early detection of breast tumors.

"Our study suggests that when a clinician presents the pros and cons of breast cancer screening to the patient, having high BMI should be an important 'pro' argument," Strand said. "In addition, our findings suggest that women with high BMI should consider shorter time intervals between screenings."

The study included 2,012 cases of breast cancer between 2001 and 2008, following patients through 2015 to identify how the progression of the disease related to BMI and breast density. Researchers were looking into risk factors associated with breast cancer that goes undetected until tumors are larger than two centimeters, which is the dividing line between Stage I and Stage II cancer.

BMI and breast density were both associated with larger tumors at diagnosis, while interval cancers were only linked only to BMI. Individuals with higher BMI also faced more difficult prognoses, while those with higher breast density did not differ from the entire group.

The study authors also noted women with high BMI may have other factors that may complicate prognosis, including the “molecular composition of the tumors and hormone receptor expression levels.”