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Weight Loss Surgery Might Cut Your Cancer Risk

You might be thinking about weight-surgery to help you feel better about yourself or lower your risk of diabetes or heart attack.

But a new study suggests that if you’re obese, you might also slash your odds of developing cancer by 25 percent — and your chance of dying from cancer by 43 percent — if you have bariatric surgery.

The data offers hope for good bariatric outcomes. Still, those numbers are simplified as statistics vary based on gender and specific types of cancer.

Theories abound as to why a big weight loss affects your cancer risks, and the lifestyle changes you make after surgery also play a role.

The Obesity-Cancer Link

This newest study zooms in on results involving 22,000 patients over 35 years old, yet it ties in well with past studies.

All told, 13 different types of cancer have been linked to excessive bodyweight:

  • Breast (after menopause)
  • Ovarian
  • Uterus
  • Colon/rectum
  • Gall bladder
  • Liver
  • Pancreas
  • Multiple myeloma (plasma cells)
  • Thyroid
  • Stomach
  • Meningioma (brain)
  • Esophagus
  • Upper stomach

Over time, the scientists learned that women who had bariatric surgery developed 41 percent fewer “obesity-related” cancers (especially colon, uterus, ovarian and breast), and died from cancers if all types 47 percent less often, than those who didn’t have the procedures.

The stats on men are different: Those who chose bariatric surgery cut their mortality from other, non-obesity-related cancers a full 51 percent. The weight-loss procedures did not change men’s mortality rates from the cancers linked to obesity. Only of fifth of those studied are male, so the sample size was smaller, which may skew the results.

How Weight-Loss Surgery Can Help You Avoid and Beat Cancer

Weight-loss, or bariatric, surgery is a tried-and-true method of losing a large amount of weight. It is a portfolio of procedures that are as low-risk as having a gall bladder removed.

If you choose a gastric bypass procedure, you are most likely to reduce your cancer risk, the study suggests. The patients studied did not choose some methods, such as the duodenal switch, often enough for researchers to draw accurate conclusions.

Here are ways the bariatric procedures might affect specific cancers:

  • Breast and uterine cancers. Breast and uterine cancers are the most prominent cancers tied to obesity in women. That’s because your estrogen levels rise when you have excessive fat tissue, and higher estrogen levels are tied to developing those cancers.
  • Liver cancer. If you’re obese, you are more likely to have cirrhosis of the liver. That, in turn, increases your chances of getting liver cancer.
  • Esophageal cancer. Obese people are extra likely to have chronic acid reflux, and that ups the chance of getting esophageal cancer.
  • Blood cancers. Another study showed that the risk of getting lymphoma was slashed in half for those who lost weight following bariatric surgery. That is likely related to blood glucose levels, which can rile up cancer cells and get them growing. Following surgery,  your sugar levels are likely to decrease.

New Ways of Eating and Exercising

The surgery alone isn’t what helps you avoid and heal certain cancers, and your new lower BMI isn’t the whole story either.

Your lifestyle will change once you’re significantly thinner, and that is likely to dial the cancer numbers down, too.

  • You’ll eat a healthier diet. Before and after your surgery, you will have little choice but to eat less fat and refined sugar. Those dietary adjustments will change your hormones, which in turn will cut your chances of developing cancer. High blood glucose can rile up tumors and get them growing. Following surgery, your sugar levels are likely to decrease.
  • You’ll move a lot more. It will be way easier to get off the sofa, for starters, and you’ll surely be walking around the neighborhood, lifting weights and/or competing on the pickleball court before long. All those movements are cancer deflectors.
  • Your immune system will be stronger. When you’re obese, it’s as if your stress hormone levels are on steroids. Those high levels nurture an atmosphere in which cancer cells — which are inside all of us — blossom. By contrast, when you’re thinner, your immune system will be stronger and will be more likely to identify and kill cancer cells before they become a tumor.

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