Gastric bypass surgery may seem a drastic option for someone battling obesity, but good results keep coming in: It works, and it appears to bring a host of health benefits. Last August, two studies showed that patients who tried the surgery had a reduced risk of dying from cancer; now a more specific study has demonstrated that the surgery cuts the risk of breast and colon cancer, the two most common forms.
Bariatric surgery is the only effective treatment for morbid obesity, according to the World Health Organization, and is usually performed using one of two different techniques. One focuses on reducing the size of the patient’s stomach alone, leading to decreased food intake. The second also reroutes food through the intestines, allowing fewer calories to be absorbed [Globe and Mail]. The surgery has already been shown to reduce risks of heart disease and diabetes, and the U.S. Medicare program is currently considering paying for the expensive surgery as a diabetes treatment.
In the current study, Canadian researchers compared about 1,000 patients who had the surgery before 2002 to over 5,000 obese patients who did not opt for the surgery. The groups were matched by gender, age, and the length of time they’d been obese. After following both groups for five years, researchers found that two percent of patients in the surgery group had contracted cancer, compared to 8.5 percent of patients in the control group.
The results, which were presented yesterday at the annual meeting of the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery, certainly seem compelling, but some experts say they’re not convinced. Dr. Edward H. Phillips, a bariatric surgeon at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, was skeptical about the findings because cancer takes a long time to develop and the patients were studied for only five years. He noted that it was now common for weight-loss surgery candidates to undergo mammograms, colonoscopies and endoscopies to screen for cancer before the procedure. “It could be that we are selecting people out of the population who don’t have cancer,” biasing the results, Phillips said [Los Angeles Times].
The study’s lead author, Dr. Nicolas Christou, responds that such screening is not the standard of care in Canada. But Christou also says he’s eager for other researchers to build on his work: “We hope to stimulate enough of our colleagues to look at their data and see if they can confirm our findings” [The Canadian Press].