For people with type 2 diabetes and obesity, undergoing bariatric (weight-loss) surgery may significantly reduce the risk of developing cancer — especially if the surgery leads to lasting diabetes remission — according to a new study published in the journal Diabetes Care.
Remission of type 2 diabetes refers to experiencing normal blood glucose levels without taking any glucose-lowering medications (including insulin) — in other words, having no signs of diabetes. Studies have shown that certain dietary changes — especially following a low-carb diet — can help people experience diabetes remission, but the most widely studied intervention linked to remission is bariatric surgery. Recent research suggests that people with type 2 diabetes who undergo the surgery are more likely to experience remission with greater weight loss up to 20% of their body weight — with weight loss beyond this level not linked to any higher likelihood of diabetes remission.
To get cutting-edge diabetes news, strategies for blood glucose management, nutrition tips, healthy recipes, and more delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for our free newsletters!
For the latest study, researchers at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden looked at data from 701 people with type 2 diabetes and obesity who took part in research on bariatric surgery and other obesity treatments. Participants belonged to one of two study groups — 393 underwent bariatric surgery, while 308 received conventional treatment for obesity. Membership in each group was matched based on a number of different traits, including blood glucose control and smoking status, to ensure that the two groups were similar aside from whether participants underwent bariatric surgery. Participants were followed for a median of 21.3 years — a long follow-up period that allowed researchers to compare outcomes that would be difficult in most shorter studies, such as how many people in each group developed cancer.
Bariatric surgery linked to lower rate of cancer diagnoses
The researchers found that among participants who underwent bariatric surgery — and experienced a large degree of overall weight loss — the rate for a first-time cancer diagnosis was 9.1 per 1,00 person years. For those who didn’t undergo bariatric surgery — almost all of whom remained severely obese — the rate for a first-time cancer diagnosis was 14.1 per 1,000 person years. These numbers indicate a 37% lower cancer risk among participants who underwent bariatric surgery. An even lower cancer risk was seen in participants who, after bariatric surgery, experienced diabetes remission that they maintained for at least 10 years. Out of those who maintained remission for this long, only 12 out of 102 participants (12%) developed cancer, compared with 75 out of 335 participants (22%) who at first experienced remission but saw the return of signs of diabetes within 10 years. This translates into a 60% lower cancer risk for those who experienced sustained diabetes remission, compared with participants who didn’t undergo bariatric surgery, as noted in a press release on the study.
“What we see is that, among patients with type 2 diabetes, many cancer cases are preventable,” said study author Kajsa Sjöholm, an associate professor of molecular medicine at Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg, in the press release. “These results are an important contribution that enhances our understanding of the connection between glucose control and cancer prevention.”
Want to learn more about bariatric surgery and type 2 diabetes? Read “Is Bariatric Surgery for You?” and “Bariatric Surgery and Diabetes: Questions and Answers.”
Want to learn more about type 2 diabetes remission? Read “Type 2 Diabetes Remission — Can It Be Done?” and “Diabetes ‘Remission’ Is Best Term for Glucose Levels, Report Says.”