Weight loss surgery may do more than help obese people shed pounds—it could slash their risk of cancer too. In a meta-analysis published in the journal Obesity Surgery, researchers found that obese patients who had bariatric surgery reduced their risk of cancer by 40 percent compared to obese people who didn’t go under the knife.
This isn’t the first study to tie bariatric surgery to a decreased risk of disease. A study published earlier this year in Gynecologic Oncology found that formerly severely obese women who received bariatric surgery reduced their risk of uterine cancer by up to 81 percent. And previous studies show that diabetes often resolves within days of bariatric surgery, before significant weight loss even occurs.
According to study author Daniela Casagrande, Ph.D. of the Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil, it’s unclear what, exactly, is behind the reduced cancer risk—but it could be that simply dropping excess weight lessens the stress on your body. “We know that bariatric surgery decreases oxidative stress, inflammatory markers, and hormonal disturbances that may explain the cancer risk reduction,” she says. But the surgery may not be entirely behind the drop in risk: Another possibility is that undergoing a procedure as serious as bariatric surgery makes patients more aware of their health and leads to an earlier diagnosis of cancer and a greater chance of survival.
Bariatric surgery is certainly not for everyone—and there's a lot that needs to be discussed with your doctor before you opt for it if you're a candidate. But what this study shows is that achieving or maintaining a healthy weight—with or without bariatric surgery—is a risk factor within your control that can help reduce your risk of cancer. And staying on top of your health—keeping regular doctor's appointments and gym sessions and making the added effort to opt for healthier food options—can help you catch diseases in their early stages, when they are easier to treat.