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Do Cancer Rates Decrease After Bariatric Surgery?

November 06, 2014

It is well established that bariatric surgery has a number of health benefits for severely overweight individuals, including an increase in overall health and a lower incidence of Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease post-surgery. But, could it also lead to decreased cancer risk?

Studies suggest so.

During the last decade, several studies have shown a link between bariatric surgery and a lowered risk of cancer. Earlier research has established that obesity increased cancer risk, but now we’ve also discovered that bariatric surgery lowers this risk in many instances.

Canadian bariatric surgeon Nicolas Christou, for example, published a remarkable paper showing that obese adults who undergo surgery to lose weight may reduce their risk for developing some cancers by as much as 80 percent. That was the first time that weight-loss surgery was shown to affect the incidence of breast and colon cancers dramatically.

Studies in Sweden and Utah also had similar results. The Swedish study, which included 2,000 patients who underwent diet therapy or gastric restrictive surgery, showed a dramatic reduction in cancer incidence among women who had the surgery. In the Utah study, more than 6,500 people who had gastric bypass were compared with more than 9,400 severely obese individuals who had not. The study found a significant decrease in the incidence of cancer and cancer-related deaths after weight loss, primarily among patients with advanced cancers.

Though bariatric surgery clearly has an effect on cancer, it’s still a mystery as to why. To a certain extent, it makes sense that weight loss can reduce cancer risk, especially if the inverse is true concerning obesity increasing the chances of cancer development. Excess body weight can affect immune system function, hormone levels, inflammation, the regulation of cell division and proteins in the body, leading to imbalances that can increase cancer risk.

In fact, the American Cancer Society estimates that one out of every three cancer deaths in the U.S. is linked to excessive bodyweight, improper nutrition and physical inactivity.

Bariatric surgery, in large part, can help to correct some of the aforementioned issues that

may put a person at higher risk. It also may reduce cancer mortality for both obesity-related and non–obesity-related cancers. The surgery may cause unique physiologic and biochemical changes that influence fat cells and inflammation in a way that weight loss alone does not. There’s also the argument that individuals who undergo surgery tend to be more proactive about their health and take actions to prevent cancer, compared to weight-matched control subjects who did not undergo bariatric surgery.

Whether or not you choose to undergo bariatric surgery, maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle can help to lower your cancer risk. Forpeople who are obese, this is critical. Obesity increases the risk of developing breast, colon, pancreatic and gallbladder cancers, among others, and it impacts survival rates, as well. There’s still much research to do to determine the exact link between bariatric surgery and cancer rates, but these procedures have significant long-term benefits for people’s overall health and quality of life.

If you think you may be a candidate for bariatric surgery, please review the information on our website and contact one of our experienced medical professionals to learn more.