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Obesity (Silver Spring). 2010 Jun;18(6):1153-9. doi: 10.1038/oby.2009.481. Epub 2009 Dec 17.

Family physicians' barriers to cancer screening in extremely obese patients.

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  • 1Department of Family Medicine, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, New Brunswick, New Jersey, USA.


Extremely obese women are less likely than nonobese women to receive breast and cervical cancer screening examinations. Reasons for this disparity are unclear and may stem from patient and/or physician barriers. This sequential mixed-methods study used individual in-depth interviews of 15 family physicians followed by a mail survey of 255 family physicians (53% response rate) to understand the barriers they faced in performing cancer screening examinations in extremely obese women. Barriers fell into three main areas: (i) difficulty doing pelvic and breast exams; (ii) inadequate equipment; and (iii) challenges overcoming patient barriers and refusal. This led some physicians to avoid performing breast and pelvic examinations on extremely obese women. Having more knowledge about specific examination techniques was associated with less difficulty in palpating lumps on breast and pelvic examinations (P < 0.005). Physicians perceived that embarrassment, aversion to undressing, and avoidance of discussions related to their weight were the most frequent barriers extremely obese women had with getting physical examinations. Educating and/or motivating patients and addressing fears were strategies used most frequently when patients refused mammograms or Pap smears. Interventions focusing on physician barriers, such as educating them on specific examination techniques, obtaining adequate equipment and supplies, and providing resources to assist physicians in dealing with patient barriers and refusal, may be fruitful in increasing cancer screening rates in extremely obese patients. Future research studies testing the effectiveness of these strategies are needed to improve cancer outcomes in this high-risk population.

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