Weight-loss surgery may prevent cancer in at-risk obese women

The surgery also dramatically reduced women's weight, increased the ability of their bodies to make insulin and use glucose, and improved their overall quality of life.

Stephen Feller
Researchers say that 40 to 50 of all endometrial cancer may be caused by obesity. Photo by AlexeiLogvinovich/Shutterstock
Researchers say that 40 to 50 of all endometrial cancer may be caused by obesity. Photo by AlexeiLogvinovich/Shutterstock

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va., Oct. 1 (UPI) -- A study on the effects of bariatric surgery on obese women most at risk for cancer showed it eliminated precancerous uterine growths, among other positive effects it had on the women's health.

The surgery also reduced study participants' weight by a third, improved their insulin levels and ability to use glucose, altered their gut bacteria and improved their overall quality of life, researchers reported.


"If you look at cancers in women, about a fifth of all cancer deaths would be prevented if we had women at normal body weight in the U.S.," said Dr. Susan Modesitt, MD, a researcher at the University of Virginia Cancer Center, in a press release. "When you're looking at obesity-related cancers, the biggest one is endometrial cancer, but also colon cancer, breast cancer, renal cancer and gall bladder cancer. We think about 40 to 50 percent of all endometrial cancer, which is in the lining of the uterus, is caused by obesity."

The study looked at the effects of bariatric surgery in 71 women with a mean age of 44.2 years and mean body mass index of 50.9. Figured from the weight and height of an individual, women are considered obese when they pass a BMI of 30 and morbidly obese above a BMI of 40, or about 100 pounds above a woman's ideal body weight.

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Researchers observed dramatic results for the 68 women who ultimately underwent the surgery and were followed for between one and three years afterward.

The largest effect was an average weight loss among the women of 100 pounds. About 10 percent of study participants who had not had a hysterectomy showed precancerous changes in the lining of the uterus, all of which were resolved following surgery.

Modesitt said she was most surprised by the "huge alteration" surgery caused in the participants gut microbiome, the collection of microorganisms that live inside the human body. She said that while researchers were unsure what role the microbiome plays in obesity and cancer, the finding is important.

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"Before groundbreaking work by Dr. John Marshall at UVA in the past, no one knew that ulcers were from bacteria," Modesitt said. "Who knows what role the gut bacteria play in promoting obesity, but metabolic parameter/markers of the bacteria definitely changed after [study participants] lost weight."

She said, however, that not becoming obese is a far better option than surgery, saying that people who seek to lose weight should first look to changing their diet and becoming more physically active.

"There are lots of studies showing if you exercise, it improves your insulin, your glucose, all of those sorts of things that go along with the cancer-causing effect," Modesitt said. "Almost everybody agrees adding exercise would be wonderful and improve health on many levels. But losing excess weight would also be good."

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The study is published in the journal Gynecologic Oncology.

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