Weight loss surgery significantly slashes risk of cancer among women

ROCKVILLE, Md. — Deciding to undergo a gastric bypass or other forms of bariatric surgery in order to lose weight is a big decision for anyone. Now, new findings by researchers with the Obesity Society suggest there may be another major benefit linked to these surgeries. A team at the University of Utah has found that bariatric surgery displays a connection to a lower risk of developing cancer and dying from obesity-related cancers among women.

The study also reports cancer mortality was significantly lower among female surgical patients in comparison to those who did not receive any bariatric surgery.

While population studies have previously established a positive association between body mass index and cancer incidence, it has remained unclear whether the voluntary reduction in body weight leads to reduced cancer risk. Why? Researchers explain significant and sustained weight loss across large populations is very difficult to achieve. Due to the substantial and maintained weight loss following bariatric surgery, however, recent studies have shown reduced cancer incidence and lower cancer mortality among bariatric surgical patients when compared with matched non-surgical patients.

“As scientists study human diseases, an element of discovery is to confirm like results from multiple studies. This research represents another important study that strongly supports the long-term benefits of weight loss surgery in the prevention of cancer,” says corresponding study author Ted D. Adams, PhD, MPH, Intermountain Surgical Specialities/Digestive Health Clinical Program and Intermountain Healthcare; Division of Epidemiology, Department of Internal Medicine and the Department of Nutrition and Integrative Physiology, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah, in a media release.

Surgeons performing surgery in the operating room
(Photo by Alex Negroe from Pexels)

For this latest research, study authors compared cancer incidence and death rates arranged according to obesity and non-obesity-related cancers, sex, cancer stage, and procedure. Retrospectively, close to 22,000 bariatric surgery patients were compared with non-surgical patients with severe obesity between 1982 and 2019.

Each patient was matched up based on age, sex, and body mass index. The team also used the Utah Population Database and included linked population-based data such as statewide birth and death certificates, the Utah Cancer Registry, and driver’s license information at each license renewal period. In all, they linked three Utah bariatric surgery registries to the population database, featuring patients who had gastric bypass, gastric banding, sleeve gastrectomy, or duodenal switch procedures. Non-surgical participants, on the other hand, were chosen from Utah driver’s license records.

The ensuing findings revealed that the bariatric surgery group enjoyed a 25-percent lower risk of developing any cancers compared to the non-surgery group. Female bariatric surgery patients specifically had a 41-percent lower risk of obesity-related cancers compared to matched non-surgery females. For males, cancer risk did not fall among bariatric surgery patients.

All in all, a significant reduction in cancer risk appeared among the following cancers: uterine, ovarian, colon, pre-menopausal breast, and post-menopausal breast. Death from cancer also fell by 47 percent among female bariatric surgery patients in comparison to matched non-surgery female patients.

“Important findings of this study are that bariatric surgery results in lower incidence rates of colon cancer (prior studies have not been consistent). Also, both pre- and post-menopausal women experience reduced breast cancer incidence following bariatric surgery, which may suggest weight loss among women in either category with severe obesity may benefit from reduced breast cancer,” Dr. Adams notes.

“Adams and colleagues have made another important contribution to our understanding of the relationship between obesity and cancer. The results of this study add to the literature indicating that the large weight loss seen with bariatric surgery decreases the risk of several types of cancer. The risk of cancer in women, who represent the majority of individuals who undergo bariatric surgery, was most greatly decreased. Persons with obesity and their health care providers should strongly consider these benefits when discussing the pros and cons of bariatric surgery,” adds David B. Sarwer, PhD, associate dean for research; director, Center for Obesity Research and Education, College of Public Health, Temple University, Philadelphia, Pa.

The study is available online in the journal Obesity.

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