Changes in skirt size linked to breast cancer risk

Oct. 10, 2014—Going up a skirt size might mean something worse than going shopping for new clothes—it could mean a greater risk of breast cancer.

A recent study found that going up a full skirt size every decade between age 25 and menopause increased a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer after menopause by 33 percent, compared to women whose skirt sizes didn’t change.

The study

Researchers studied almost 93,000 women in the United Kingdom between 2005 and 2010. Participants were all over 50, postmenopausal and not known to have breast cancer when they entered the study.

The women completed detailed questionnaires about their health, habits and family histories. In particular, the researchers looked at data relating to known risk factors for breast cancer, including height, weight, body mass index (BMI), use of hormone replacement therapy, treatment for infertility and a family history of breast cancer. The women also recorded their current skirt sizes and what they were in their 20s.

After three to four years, the researchers followed up with the participants and found that 1,090 women had developed breast cancer during the study period. That means the absolute risk of breast cancer for all women in the study was just over 1 percent. As expected, the researchers found increased breast cancer risk among women who had known risk factors, including infertility treatment, family history of breast or ovarian cancer, and use of hormone replacement therapy.

Eyes on the size

After accounting for known breast cancer risk factors, researchers identified skirt size increase as an additional risk factor.

At age 25, women in the study had an average skirt size of a U.K. 12 (equivalent to an 8 in the U.S.). When they entered the study, the average skirt size was U.K. 14, or U.S. 10. Skirt size increased over adulthood for 3 out of 4 participants.

Researchers found that going up one full skirt size every 10 years increased a woman’s breast cancer risk by 33 percent. They also found that an increase of two full skirt sizes within 10 years was associated with a 77 percent increase in relative risk. There are no odd-numbered sizes in the U.K., so a jump from 12 to 14 was one full size.

The researchers found that the association of skirt size increase with breast cancer risk was independent of known risk factors such as weight or BMI. They noted that comparing current and previous skirt sizes in postmenopausal women appeared to be a better predictor of breast cancer risk than BMI.

Learn more about the study in the online journal BMJ Open.

The take-home message
Risk factors are just that—factors. They don’t mean that you’ll definitely get a disease, and many women who develop breast cancer have no apparent risk factors.

However, this study suggests that the link between weight gain around the waist and breast cancer risk is real. According to the American Cancer Society, extra weight in the abdomen may affect breast cancer risk more than fat on the thighs or hips.

Keeping an eye on your skirt size can be a simple way to monitor weight gain around your waist. This information can help you make informed decisions about diet and exercise too.

Work with your physician to monitor your health, your weight and your risk factors. To learn more about what health factors may put you at greater risk for developing breast cancer, take this breast cancer risk assessment.

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