Biology GCSE : Wide hips increase risk of breat cancer

Hi all,

My daughter just showed me her paper for GCSE Biology 'Ideas in Context’Unit 3. This is one unit of the OCR Biology GCSE that she needs to do background work on over the Easter holidays. The booklet is a short article entitled: ‘Wide hips increase risk of breast cancer’.

“Scientists have found that female babies of mothers with wide hips are more likely to develop breast cancer etc etc”

An exam in June will test candidates’ analysis of strengths/weaknesses of the article (at least that is my understanding!).

There is an accompanying briefing giving the limitations of the study which is quite detailed opening with “The findings of this study are not reliable enough to suggest that the pelvic width of the mother, or the exposure to circulating hormones while they were in the womb can increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer”. It goes on to list all sorts of limitations to the conclusions of the study.

I guess I am rather sensitive on this topic as I have secondary breast cancer… but really, as my daughter said to me, I hate articles that imply there is a known cause for breast cancer. Is it helpful to give teenagers this sort of half-baked article to critique?? I am concerned that the complexity of analysing such a study will be beyond the limitations (time and expertise) of the participants.

On the other hand maybe it is a good thing - I am sure it is good that students are given the opportunity to criticise ‘bad science’, I am just wondering how useful this particular exercise will be. And I know that my daughter will be more affected by this than if it covered another illness - I’d be interested in the views of others with children taking this exam. I guess kids will inevitably have some thoughts about the size of mum’s/granny’s hips!


Hi Lottie,
Like you say I too would have misgivings if my daughter or son was expected to critique such an article. It might possibly be appropriate for a similar article to be produced at degree level - when the participants have more time and expetise to discuss such an article. i also feel it is ill advised to use such an article with young teenagers - they are at a very sensative age and anything which makes them dislike or doupt their body image seems a bad idea. There must be hundreds of other articles which are less emotive and could have been used in place of this one.

I think its a good thing that students are given the opportunity to criticise ‘bad science’ in GCSE work. So many adults can’t do this and don’t know how to read scientific articles which appear in the press.

It is problematic when the chosen article touches something very personal for a student, but then any subject could be difficult…choose an article about adoption…could be tricky…choose one about eating disorders…could be tricky…chose one about divorce…could be tricky. Life can be hard and there is a limit to the protection that children and young people can be offered.


When I read this it reminded me of when I was having my first baby who is now nearly 30 years old, at that time the health pros. asked ‘mothers to be’ what their shoe size was so that they could determine the size of the mothers pelvis. Does this mean that women with big feet are more likely to get breast cancer.
Good luck to everyone. Olwen

I’ve always had huge hips, have had no children and for the record I had no hormone involvement in my cancer.


I actually remember reading an article about this in the paper 2 years ago. It actually ‘amused’ me at the time as my Mum and I were both being treated for breast cancer at the same time. Every few days there would be reports in the paper over something or other that increased the risk, we were amused by this as we were never fitting any of the ‘risk catergories.’ Particularly as my Mum is a slim size 12 and my Grandma was very tall and thin!

Also for the record I breastfed my son, only took the pill for a short time, am a size 12 myself so not overweight, exercise (not as much as I should, but do from time to time!) have never smoked, drink moderately and was 40 at the time of diagnosis!! If any of the 'scare stories/myths about cancer were true, I should never of had it - but I did!! (only the deodorant one applies to me!!! :slight_smile: )

On a serious note though it is a good job that the essay was for preparation not actually given in an actual exam hall for the first time. Can you imagine how distressing that could be for a student who has experienced the suffering of a close family member! being faced with having to think about BC during an exam, under exam conditions. At least students (hopefully) will be able to discuss the article with others who have some understanding of the issues and be able to realise how ‘irrelevant’ these so-called ‘studies’ can be!

Regards to you all


Hi Ladies,
I am actually a biology teacher, however we do not do OCR here in N. Ireland. I know we can all be sensitive about these things now that they have affected us so readily. I assume the thinking behind it is to show pupils how biased some of the so called medical reports are that we see in the media these days. Perviously I have heard of them critiquing articles on MMR and autism. I think it is more to highlight the fact that a lot of these reports have limited research carried out and that they may only look at 50 people say and all have had breast cancer, rather than look at a larger number of participants both those having had cancers of various types and those who have never had a diagnosis.
I am back at work having finished my treatment in Dec and I find that it has helped me teach these sensitive issues much more appropriately, I am more aware now that some of my pupils may have someone in their family affected by the medical issues I teach about. I do find it hard sometimes not to talk about my cancer as my pupils don’t know.

I think if you sit with your daughter and chat to her about these sorts of reports and their indiscrepancies (??) then it will help her get some perspective of them. The World Cancer Research organisation (or something like that) released a paper recently which looked at a load of cancer related reports and scrutinised the research and basis for them, even the campaign on TV about drinking and breast cancer is not accurately proven according to them.

Oh sorry ranting on. But the gist is loads of these reports are released without much real scientific research being carried out and the media jumps on them, the tasks set are for the pupils’ to decide whether the article is justified, has enough research to prove it and also if there are any biases, like pharmaceuticals paying the research projects.


my hips were size 10 pre BC, now thanks to tamoxifen they are just squeezing into a size 12 does this up my daughters risk ???

I also agree with the comment re feet and childbirth, I should have have had an easy time with both of mine, nope both got stuck and yes eventually born healthy but not the natural way.

Debs XX

Hi all
Well im just about to take this exam and i have got the pre release ‘Wide hips increase risk of brest cancer’ and i belive that by givind us this it makes us understand more about the topic of breast cancer.
I already know alot about breast cancer because my mum died of it and i still belive that its a good topic to give to GCSE students as they will need to know about this topic soon as they will be going to collage soon.
So i don’t think you should worry about how they have giving this to us for our GCSE, because as my mum used to say we cant keep wrapping you up in cotten wool, and that is what you seem to be doing by worring about this topic,You just need to let us grow up.
If they hadent of used this topic they may of used lung cancer or any other topic people would still get a bit upset if they know someone with that illness but they if you stoped using stuff that would hurt peoples ideas there would be no more ideas to be able to use so i belive that you just have to get on with it.

Gemma x

Hi Gemma

Just a quick message to say good luck in your exam! You sound like you have a very mature and sensible outlook, so good luck to you!

Take care Nicky