Health Advice



Beyond weight loss: Bariatric surgery may reduce cancer risk

Mayo Clinic Staff, Mayo Clinic News Network on

Published in Health & Fitness

When you think about obesity, you may not connect it to cancer. However, researchers long have suspected a link between certain cancers and weight.

Among those are endometrial, ovarian, colon, liver, pancreatic and postmenopausal breast cancers, which together contribute to 15 to 20% of all cancer deaths in the U.S.

Cancer risk increases with obesity

More than one-third of adults in the U.S. are considered obese with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher. BMI is the measure of body fat of body fat based on weight and height. The number of people with severe obesity, which is a BMI of 40 or higher, has increased significantly. According to one study in the New England Journal of Medicine, if a person's BMI goes up by even five points, their cancer risk increases by 10%.

Those who are obese are two times more likely to develop cancer than those of optimal weight. For example, the risk for endometrial cancer increases sevenfold with a BMI of more than 40.

The greater risk of cancer appears to be due to excess body weight in the form of fat. Obesity causes fat cells in the body to increase. As the number of these fat cells goes up, the body's release of hormones changes. These changes tend to increase pro-inflammatory hormones and estrogen. This chronic inflammatory state can lead to damage in cells and the DNA in them, increasing the risk of certain types of cancers.


Researchers are studying the role body fat plays in chronic inflammation. In addition, hormones like estrogen and insulin resistance can lead to chronic metabolic diseases, including diabetes. By 2050, the Centers for Disease Control estimates that 1 in 3 adults will have diabetes along with its associated health complications.

Bariatric surgery and reduction of cancer risk link

Researchers believe a decrease in inflammatory fat cells could reduce cancer risks, but more research is needed. And it's still unknown to what extent cancer risk is reversed with nonsurgical, also called intentional, weight loss.

But for anyone who has lost weight with lifestyle changes, the challenge is keeping it off. The body has many complex neurohormonal systems in place to avoid starvation, making it difficult to maintain weight loss.


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