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Unlocking the Potential of Bariatric Surgery in Cancer Risk Reduction : A Comprehensive Study

In 2019, approximately 21% of deaths in the United States were attributed to cancer. Notably, 13 types of cancer have been directly associated with obesity, encompassing some of the most prevalent forms such as colorectal and breast cancer.(1,2)

Currently, a significant 42.5% of adults in the U.S. are classified as obese, and an additional 31.1% fall into the overweight category. Alarmingly, severe obesity has been found to escalate the risk of cancer-related mortality by a staggering 62% among women and 52% among men.(3,4)

While research consistently establishes a correlation between higher body mass index (BMI) and elevated cancer risk, the question of whether BMI reduction directly translates to diminished cancer risk remains somewhat ambiguous.

Recent studies have delved into the realm of bariatric surgery, encompassing various surgical procedures designed to alter the digestive system, consequently fostering weight loss.(5)

This approach has demonstrated notable success in achieving clinically significant weight reduction and appears to influence critical biological mechanisms linked to cancer. This modulation may ultimately lead to a decrease in cancer incidence and an improvement in mortality rates for specific types of cancer.(6,7)

Delving deeper into the effects of bariatric surgery on cancer rates and outcomes holds the potential to revolutionize our approach to cancer prevention. Recently, a team of researchers conducted a comprehensive analysis of long-term healthcare data derived from patients who had undergone bariatric surgery. Their findings unequivocally pointed to a significant decrease in both cancer incidence and cancer-related mortality among this cohort.(8)

This groundbreaking study has been published in the esteemed journal, Obesity. The implications of this research are profound, potentially paving the way for innovative and targeted strategies in cancer prevention, particularly for individuals struggling with obesity.

Weight Loss Surgery Shows Promising Results in Reducing Mortality and Cancer Risk

The study delved into healthcare data from a substantial cohort of 21,837 patients who had undergone bariatric surgery spanning from 1982 to 2018. These individuals were meticulously compared to a control group of 21,837 counterparts who had not undergone such surgery. The matching was done based on crucial factors including age, gender, and Body Mass Index (BMI).

The bariatric surgery procedures encompassed a range of interventions tailored to facilitate weight loss: 

  • Gastric Bypass: This procedure involves reducing the size of the stomach and rerouting food to the middle segment of the small intestine. This procedure promotes significant weight loss through restriction and malabsorption.(9)
  • Gastric Banding: Gastric banding, also known as adjustable gastric banding or laparoscopic banding, is a procedure that involves the placement of a silicone band around the upper part of the stomach. This band effectively creates two compartments within the stomach – a smaller upper pouch and a larger lower portion. The band is adjustable and can be tightened or loosened as needed. It restricts food intake, inducing a feeling of fullness with smaller meals.(10)
  • Sleeve Gastrectomy: Sleeve gastrectomy, often referred to simply as “the sleeve,” is a surgical procedure that involves the removal of a significant portion of the stomach. During this surgery, a large portion of the stomach is separated and excised from the body, leaving behind a slender, tube-like structure resembling a banana, which is the reason for its nickname, “the gastric sleeve.” By reducing the size of the stomach, the procedure significantly curtails its capacity to hold food.(11)
  • Duodenal Switch: The duodenal switch surgery represents a more complex and hybrid approach among bariatric procedures. It combines elements of both the sleeve gastrectomy and the gastric bypass. In this procedure, a significant portion of the stomach is removed, leaving behind a slender gastric sleeve. Additionally, the surgeon reroutes a portion of the small intestine to enable food to bypass a segment of the digestive tract. The combination of gastric restriction and altered nutrient absorption mechanisms results in effective weight loss.(12)

The patients were meticulously tracked over a span ranging from 2.8 to 13.5 years. Remarkably, nearly 79% of the participants were female. At the outset of the study, both groups exhibited an average BMI of approximately 46. Notably, a BMI of 30 or above is categorized within the realm of obesity.

Key Findings of the Study

The study yielded pivotal outcomes. It revealed that individuals who had undergone bariatric surgery manifested a 25 percent lower likelihood of developing any form of cancer in comparison to their counterparts in the nonsurgical group. Moreover, they demonstrated a striking 43% reduced likelihood of succumbing to cancer as opposed to those who had not opted for surgery.

Gender-Specific Insights

In dissecting the data based on gender, intriguing disparities emerged. Women who had undergone surgery exhibited a noteworthy 41 percent lower likelihood of developing obesity-related cancers, which encompassed breast, ovarian, uterine, and colon cancer. Additionally, they displayed a remarkable 47 percent decrease in overall cancer-related mortality compared to women who had not undergone surgery. This included a substantial 55 percent reduction in mortality for obesity-related cancers and a notable 38 percent reduction for non-obesity-related cancers.

On the contrary, the study did not establish a significant correlation between bariatric surgery and reduced overall cancer mortality or obesity-related cancer mortality in male patients. However, it was associated with a notable 51 percent lower cancer mortality for non-obesity-related cancers.

Comparative Insights from the Study

The researchers also pointed out that cancer mortality rates were notably lower following gastric bypass surgery when compared to gastric banding or sleeve gastrectomy. It is worth noting that due to the smaller sample size, making a comparable analysis for duodenal switch surgery was not feasible.

These findings corroborate previous research and underscore the pivotal role of bariatric surgery, particularly in reducing cancer risk and mortality, particularly for women and in the context of specific types of cancers.(13)

How Exactly Does Bariatric Surgery Mitigates Cancer Risk?

Bariatric surgery reduces cancer risk through several mechanisms, including: 

  1. Weight Loss and Reduced Adipose Tissue: Bariatric surgery triggers substantial weight loss, particularly in individuals with obesity. This weight reduction is vital, as excess body weight, especially visceral adipose tissue (fat around internal organs), is linked to higher levels of inflammation. Chronic inflammation is a key factor in cancer development. By shedding excess weight, the body’s inflammatory response is mitigated, thereby reducing the conducive environment for cancer cells to thrive.(14)
  2. Balanced Hormone Levels: Bariatric surgery can lead to significant changes in the levels of hormones related to metabolism, satiety, and appetite regulation. For instance, procedures like gastric bypass alter the release of gut hormones such as ghrelin and peptide YY. These hormonal shifts can contribute to a more balanced metabolic profile, potentially reducing cancer risk.(15)
  3. Improved Insulin Sensitivity and Blood Sugar Control: Many individuals with obesity have insulin resistance, which leads to elevated levels of insulin in the bloodstream. Insulin, in excess, can stimulate cell growth, including cancer cells. Bariatric surgery often results in improved insulin sensitivity, meaning cells respond more effectively to insulin signals. This leads to better blood sugar control and a reduced risk of conditions associated with elevated insulin levels, such as type 2 diabetes.(16)
  4. Positive Changes in Gut Microbiota: The gut microbiota, a complex community of microorganisms residing in the digestive tract, plays a crucial role in metabolism and inflammation. Bariatric surgery has been shown to induce changes in the composition and diversity of gut bacteria. These alterations may lead to a more favorable gut environment, with reduced inflammation and potentially lower cancer risk.
  5. Resolution of Obesity-Related Conditions: Bariatric surgery often results in the improvement or even resolution of comorbidities associated with obesity, such as hypertension, dyslipidemia, and obstructive sleep apnea. These conditions are not only connected to obesity but also independently linked to an increased risk of certain cancers. By effectively managing these health issues, the surgery indirectly contributes to lowering cancer risk.
  6. Surgery-Specific Effects: Different types of bariatric procedures may have unique effects on cancer risk. For instance, gastric bypass surgery is associated with changes in the levels of hormones like insulin and leptin, which can impact cancer risk. Additionally, procedures like sleeve gastrectomy may alter the production of certain gastrointestinal hormones that play a role in metabolism and satiety.

As can be seen, bariatric surgery offers a multifaceted approach to reducing cancer risk. Through weight loss, hormonal adjustments, improved metabolic health, and alterations in gut microbiota, these procedures create an environment less favorable for cancer development. However, it is crucial to emphasize that while bariatric surgery is a powerful tool in cancer prevention, it should be complemented with other healthy lifestyle choices and regular medical follow-up for optimal results.


There is no doubt that this study underscores the potential of weight loss as a valuable tool in cancer treatment. Bariatric surgery not only reduces cancer incidence, but also lowers associated mortality rates, highlighting its importance for healthcare professionals treating cancer.

It is recommended that further research should explore similar benefits in patients using newer drugs. Experts already emphasize that the study’s findings may encourage those eligible for surgery to consider its broader advantages in cancer risk reduction.

However, caution is advised, especially for women considering treatments affecting hormones like bariatric surgery, which carries intermediate to high risks. The primary focus should be on cancer prevention through a healthy lifestyle comprising a balanced diet and regular exercise, guided by medical providers and nutrition counselors.


  1. Deaths: Final data for 2019 (no date) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available at: https://stacks.cdc.gov/view/cdc/106058 (Accessed: 10 September 2023).
  2. NCI Annual Plan & Budget Proposal for Fiscal Year 2024 (no date) National Cancer Institute. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/research/annual-plan (Accessed: 10 September 2023).
  3. Products – health e stats – prevalence of overweight, obesity, and extreme obesity among adults aged 20 and over: United States, 1960–1962 through 2017–2018 (2021) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hestat/obesity-adult-17-18/obesity-adult.htm (Accessed: 10 September 2023).
  4. Coleman, M.P., Esteve, J., Damiecki, P., Arslan, A. and Renard, H., 1993. Trends in cancer incidence and mortality. IARC scientific publications, (121), pp.1-806.
  5. Gloy, V.L., Briel, M., Bhatt, D.L., Kashyap, S.R., Schauer, P.R., Mingrone, G., Bucher, H.C. and Nordmann, A.J., 2013. Bariatric surgery versus non-surgical treatment for obesity: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. Bmj, 347.
  6. Bohm, M.S., Sipe, L.M., Pye, M.E., Davis, M.J., Pierre, J.F. and Makowski, L., 2022. The role of obesity and bariatric surgery-induced weight loss in breast cancer. Cancer and Metastasis Reviews, 41(3), pp.673-695.
  7. Aminian, A., Wilson, R., Al-Kurd, A., Tu, C., Milinovich, A., Kroh, M., Rosenthal, R.J., Brethauer, S.A., Schauer, P.R., Kattan, M.W. and Brown, J.C., 2022. Association of bariatric surgery with cancer risk and mortality in adults with obesity. Jama, 327(24), pp.2423-2433.
  8. Adams, T.D., Meeks, H., Fraser, A., Davidson, L.E., Holmen, J., Newman, M., Ibele, A.R., Playdon, M., Hardikar, S., Richards, N. and Hunt, S.C., 2023. Long‐term cancer outcomes after bariatric surgery. Obesity, 31(9), pp.2386-2397.
  9. Adams, T.D., Davidson, L.E., Litwin, S.E., Kolotkin, R.L., LaMonte, M.J., Pendleton, R.C., Strong, M.B., Vinik, R., Wanner, N.A., Hopkins, P.N. and Gress, R.E., 2012. Health benefits of gastric bypass surgery after 6 years. Jama, 308(11), pp.1122-1131.
  10. Himpens, J., Cadière, G.B., Bazi, M., Vouche, M., Cadière, B. and Dapri, G., 2011. Long-term outcomes of laparoscopic adjustable gastric banding. Archives of surgery, 146(7), pp.802-807.
  11. Gumbs, A.A., Gagner, M., Dakin, G. and Pomp, A., 2007. Sleeve gastrectomy for morbid obesity. Obesity surgery, 17, pp.962-969.
  12. Marceau, P., Biron, S., Hould, F.S., Lebel, S., Marceau, S., Lescelleur, O., Biertho, L. and Simard, S., 2007. Duodenal switch: long-term results. Obesity surgery, 17, pp.1421-1430.
  13. Schauer, D.P., Feigelson, H.S., Koebnick, C., Caan, B., Weinmann, S., Leonard, A.C., Powers, J.D., Yenumula, P.R. and Arterburn, D.E., 2019. Bariatric surgery and the risk of cancer in a large multisite cohort. Annals of surgery, 269(1), p.95.
  14. Frikke‐Schmidt, H., O’Rourke, R.W., Lumeng, C.N., Sandoval, D.A. and Seeley, R.J., 2016. Does bariatric surgery improve adipose tissue function?. obesity reviews, 17(9), pp.795-809.
  15. Hamoui, N., Kim, K. and Anthone, G., 2003. The significance of elevated levels of parathyroid hormone in patients with morbid obesity before and after bariatric surgery. Archives of Surgery, 138(8), pp.891-897.
  16. Umeda, L.M., Silva, E.A., Carneiro, G., Arasaki, C.H., Geloneze, B. and Zanella, M.T., 2011. Early improvement in glycemic control after bariatric surgery and its relationships with insulin, GLP-1, and glucagon secretion in type 2 diabetic patients. Obesity surgery, 21, pp.896-901.
Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:September 12, 2023

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