Over a 10-year period, people who had bariatric surgery were significantly less likely to acquire cancer and, if they did, were far more likely to survive it.
Preliminary research published this week suggests that bariatric (weight loss) surgery has long-term benefits. Over a 10-year period, persons who had surgery were significantly less likely to get specific cancers than people with obesity who did not have surgery, according to the study. Those who did get cancer had a lower chance of dying from it.
Researchers from Wisconsin’s Gundersen Lutheran Health System led the study. They combed over the medical records of over 1,000 patients who had surgery at their facility since 2001. These patients were compared to a nonsurgical control group of over 2,000 patients who were matched on sex, age, and baseline BMI (BMI). Their cancer-related outcomes were then monitored for a decade.
During those years, the surgical group had a considerably lower risk of a new cancer diagnosis than the control group (5.2 percent vs. 12.2 percent ). Breast cancer (1.4 percent vs. 2.7 percent), reproductive tract malignancies in women (0.4 percent vs. 2.6 percent), and kidney cancer all had the greatest reductions in risk (0.10 percent vs. 0.80 percent ). Furthermore, the 10-year survival rate for cancer patients in the bariatric group was 92.9 percent compared to 80.6 percent in the control group.
The findings were presented at the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS) Annual Meeting this week, but they have not yet been published in a peer-reviewed publication, which is a critical step in the scientific process. However, this is the most recent study to suggest that bariatric patients have superior health outcomes after surgery, including a lower risk of cancer. In fact, according to a separate study presented at the ASMBS this week, patients who had surgery were 37 percent less likely to acquire colorectal cancer.
In an email to Gizmodo, co-author Jared Miller, a general and bariatric surgeon at Gundersen Lutheran, said, “This study also gives light on the many malignancies that obesity can cause, as well as to what extent bariatric surgery can reduce cancer risk.” “We believe this knowledge is critical in teaching other health care experts about how bariatric surgery affects cancers particular to each specialisation.”
Bariatric surgery can take several forms, but the bulk of them require permanently reshaping the digestive tract. Patients lose significant amounts of weight and keep it off, which is difficult to achieve with traditional dietary and lifestyle adjustments. According to Miller, the majority of the cancer-related advantages from surgery come from weight loss, while other physical changes may also be involved. Obesity has been related to increased inflammation, changes in the gut flora, and changes in hormone levels, all of which could contribute to cancer risk and survival, according to him.
While the findings of the study suggest that bariatric surgery is still beneficial, at least for those who are able and willing to have it, they may have consequences for the management of obesity in general. In recent years, medicines have been created that look to be significantly more effective at helping patients lose weight than previous treatments. Mounjaro, a drug developed by Eli Lilly, was approved for type 2 diabetes in May, and it is expected to be approved for obesity later this year or next year. People taking Mounjaro have lost up to 20% or more of their weight in large-scale trials, which is slightly less than the average weight loss reported with traditional bariatric surgery.
For the time being, however, the long-term health benefits of these modern pharmaceutical treatments remain unknown. While diets, exercise, and medications can all help patients lose weight, Miller points out that only bariatric surgery has shown these kinds of long-term health benefits.
Shanu Kothari, the president of the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery, agrees that it will take time to see if these treatments can match the potential of surgery in treating or preventing obesity-related diseases like cancer.
In an email to Gizmodo, he said, “Future studies will have to be done to evaluate if weight loss with pharmaceutical intervention would yield the same cancer risk reduction as bariatric surgery.”