A gastric bypass might help some people bypass cancer

In an exciting recent study, researchers found that for adults with obesity, weight loss through bariatric surgery lowered their risk of cancer by 35% and reduced their risk of cancer-related death by 43%. This was true of both gastric bypass and gastric sleeve surgeries, and the results were observed ten years after patients’ procedures.

This is great news for people who have seen weight-loss success through bariatric surgery. The study found that patients lose 20 to 35% of their body weight through bariatric surgery. By limiting the amount of food a person can comfortably eat and/or decreasing the overall absorption of nutrients in food, bariatric surgery modifies gut hormones that signal hunger, resetting the body’s metabolism. This can help patients keep their weight off for good.

Nearly 42% of American adults contend with obesity, increasing their risk of developing 13 types of cancer, including breast, colon, endometrial, and pancreatic cancer. Combined, the cancers associated with obesity account for 40% of all cancers diagnosed every year.

I was heartened to read in the study that the greater the weight loss, the lower the cancer risk no matter what type of operation – sleeve gastrectomy or gastric bypass.

After ten years, 2.9% of patients in the bariatric surgery group and 4.9% of patients in the non-surgical group developed obesity-associated cancer. And 0.8% of patients in the surgery group and 1.4% of patients in the non-surgical group died from cancer. That is a 48% reduction in the risk of dying from cancer.

For many obese patients, losing weight is the goal, but what inspires me is the way our patients live life to the fullest.

Five months after her bariatric-sleeve surgery, one of my patients, Lori Zaccari, had shed 80 pounds and six dress sizes. She was able to stop taking her blood pressure medication and cut her cholesterol medication in half. The former soccer player was back to her once-active lifestyle, posing for photos with her family and enjoying her life.

Previous studies found bariatric surgery reduces people’s risk of diabetes, liver, and heart disease. That Lori reduced her risk of developing cancer, too, is something that fills me with tremendous gratitude.

One thing not noted in the study is the importance of a comprehensive approach to sustaining weight loss. Traditionally, bariatric programs are surgical programs. I believe it’s crucial to offer a more holistic approach because we recognized that great support is needed throughout a patient’s journey.

Registered dieticians, neuropsychologists, bariatric medicine specialists, and other specialists work together with surgeons to help patients with obesity beat their disease – and prevent them from developing new ones.

Adrian B. Dobrowolsky is a bariatric surgeon and director, Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian’s Bariatric Weight Loss Program, Newport Beach, CA.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com


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