Is focus on skirt sizes the best way to prevent breast cancer? | Breast Cancer UK

Is focus on skirt sizes the best way to prevent breast cancer?

Published 25 Sep 2014

Blog by Lynn Ladbrook, CEO Breast Cancer UK

I can't help but feel slightly disappointed by the study, featured in today’s news that keeping an eye on skirt sizes can help to flag breast cancer risk (1).  The study carried out by the Department of Women's Cancer at the University of London found that a women whose skirt size increased by one unit (e.g by 12 -14) every 10 years between 25 and post-menopausal age had a 33% increased risk of breast cancer.  For those women who size increased by two skirt sizes, this risk increased to 77%

Whilst the study does not set out to prove a causal link between weight gain and breast cancer, it does suggest that keeping track of skirt sizes and linking this to breast cancer can provide a “simple and easy to understand message”.

Whilst I get that the aim of the study was to look specifically at midriff fat increase whereas studies before looked at overall obesity, hence the skirt size link - I do find the overall message both patronising and a bit depressing.  Are women really in need of such simplistic messages?  Are we really that difficult to get through to that we have to resort to a stereotypical view that all women care about is their dress size?   Is it really because women simply won’t listen that we appear to be having no success at reducing the incidence rates of breast cancer? 

As Simon Vincent of Breakthrough Breast Cancer quite rightly says in the BBC news article "We know that 40% of breast cancers could be prevented by changes to lifestyle such as being regularly active and maintaining a healthy weight.”   I’m not sure it gets much simpler than this.  But what about the other 60% of breast cancer cases?  What lies at the root cause of these?

In 2012, only 3.6% of cancer research spending went towards prevention.  Only 1.1% went towards investigating the exogenous or environmental causes of the disease (2).     This is a paltry amount when you consider that nearly 50,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer in this country every year and in the vast majority of cases it is likely that the causative factor for breast cancer is environmental (3).

It might well be mildly interesting for some to focus, yet again, on the size of women’s back-sides and to think we are in need of dumbing down, but I think women deserve better than that.  I think its time we looked at the more complex reasons why women get breast cancer.  We need to invest a far greater proportion of research funding into the environmental and chemical causes of the disease and to start taking action to actually get rid of some of the pollutants that a lot of other, albeit far less sexy, scientific research has shown to be linked to the disease.   



(1) Association of skirt size and postmenopausal breast cancer risk in older women: a cohort study within the UK Collaborative Trial of Ovarian Cancer Screening (UKCTOCS) BMJ Open 2014;4:e005400 doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2014-005400

(2) NCRI CaRD 2002-2012 (Date of Access September 2013):

(3)  Pisano, P. (1992). ‘Breast Cancer: geographic variation and risk factors.’  Journal of Environmental Pathology, toxicology and Oncology 11: 313-316.

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