Is Gasric Bypass Surgery a Cure for Cancer?

BY THOMAS H. NAUGH and DENISE GELLENEL
9:14 PM EDT, June 10, 2008

Gastric bypass surgery — a treatment for obesity already known to reduce heart disease and diabetes — decreases the incidence of cancer by 80 percent over the five years following the procedure, Canadian researchers reported Wednesday.

Gastric bypass surgery — a treatment for obesity already known to reduce heart disease and diabetes — decreases the incidence of cancer by 80 percent over the five years following the procedure, Canadian researchers reported Wednesday.

Incidence of two of the most common tumors, breast and colon, were reduced by 85 percent and 70 percent respectively, said Dr. Nicolas Christou of McGill University in Toronto.

The study confirms findings of two papers last August that showed the surgery reduced overall deaths from cancer. The new study goes a step further by showing reductions in the incidence of several specific types of cancer, said Dr. Philip Schauer of the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine, who was not involved in the study.

It comes as the U.S. Medicare program, the federal health plan for 44 million elderly and disabled, is considering reimbursement for bariatric surgery amid findings it can have a dramatic impact on Type 2 diabetes, which has reached epidemic levels in the United States.

“This is really powerful information,” Schauer, immediate past president of the American Society of Metabolic & Bariatric Surgery, said of the cancer findings. “It reaffirms that obesity is a profound risk factor for cancer” and shows “weight loss does seem to affect the development of new cancers.”

But Dr. Edward H. Phillips, a bariatric surgeon at Los Angeles’ 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 it is now common practice for surgery candidates to undergo mammograms, colonoscopies and endoscopies to screen for cancer before the weight loss surgery.

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