Obesity in post menopausal women with a family history of breast cancer: prevalence and risk awareness

Int Semin Surg Oncol. 2009 Jan 8;6:1. doi: 10.1186/1477-7800-6-1.


Background: Obesity and physical activity are modifiable risk factors in the development of post-menopausal breast cancer. The aim of this study was to assess the level of awareness and prevalence of these factors in women attending family history clinics.

Methods: Women attending the breast cancer family history clinic from 2004 to 2006 completed a questionnaire (SP15 format) about their knowledge of and exposure to various diet and lifestyle factors. All women had been counselled by a Consultant Cancer Geneticist and were given verbal and written information on the effect of life style on breast cancer risk. Responses were analysed using SPSStrade mark software.

Results: The response rate was 70% and two thirds of women were post-menopausal. The prevalence of obesity in post-menopausal women was 37% with 40% being overweight. The majority of women consumed a healthy balanced diet. Only 15% of post-menopausal women exercised for more than 4 hours per week. Two-thirds of women correctly stated that obesity increases their breast cancer risk and 73% of these were overweight or obese. Over 87% were correctly aware of the role of family history, 68% of a high fat diet, and 57% of hormone replacement therapy in the development of breast cancer.

Conclusion: Women attending family history clinics lead a high risk lifestyle for the development of breast cancer with high prevalence of obesity and low levels of physical activity. A campaign of patient education is needed to promote healthy lifestyle choices, especially physical activity, in these high-risk women.