Obesity remains a significant health problem in the United States. About 15 million people are obese and since 40% of all cancers can be traced back to obesity, the risk is real.
In addition to diet and exercise programs, some obese patients choose a surgical option. Bariatric surgery can result in significant weight loss for some patients. Gastric bypass, a gastric sleeve, and a LAP band are all surgical procedures for obesity. New research from the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine shows that patients who choose gastric bypass to lose weight will have a lower risk of developing cancer. The risk of developing any form of cancer drops by nearly a third in gastric bypass patients.
Daniel Schauer, MD is an associate professor in the UC’s Division of General Internal Medicine and was the lead researcher stated, "We found having bariatric surgery is associated with a reduced risk of cancer, especially obesity-associated cancers including postmenopausal breast cancer, endometrial cancer, pancreatic cancer and colon cancer. What's surprising is how great the risk of cancer was reduced."
The study is the result of crunching some big numbers. Schauer’s team reviewed health data from 22,198 individuals who had chosen to have weight loss surgery. On the other side of the equation were 66,427 obese patients who had not chosen to have weight-loss surgery. The information was collected in the years between 2005 and 2012, with a follow-up component through the end of 2014. The health record information came five Kaiser-Permanente study sites in Northern California, Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Southern California.
About 80% of the patients in the study were women, however, that reflects the fact that more women than men elect to have weight loss surgery and two of the cancers studied, breast cancer and endometrial cancer only occur in women. The most significant findings involved pancreatic cancer. The risk of a bariatric patient developing pancreatic cancer after undergoing the surgery was lowered by 54% in comparison to an obese patient who did not have surgery.
Many cancers in women are associated with estrogen levels. Estrogen is stored in fat cells, so after bariatric surgery, estrogen levels drop in most women. The procedure also regulates insulin levels that are disrupted in overweight patients. This lowers the risk for diabetes and could be the reason behind the surprisingly lower risk of pancreatic cancers.
While the findings are positive in that cancer rates are dropping in some patients, Schauer stressed that there are many factors to consider before deciding to have weight-loss surgery. He explained, "I think considering cancer risk is one small piece of the puzzle when considering bariatric surgery, but there are many factors to consider. Reductions in diabetes, hypertension, and improvements in survival and quality of life are reason enough, but the study provides an additional reason to consider bariatric surgery."
Take a look at the video below to learn more about the study.