Obesity surgery can “reduce the risk of blood cancer in obese women”, a new study has found.

Researchers compared two groups of people, one of which underwent bariatric surgery and another group of people with obesity who did not have surgery.

The two groups were both made up of around 2,000 men and women who were more or less similar in terms of age, psychosocial factors and cardiovascular risk.

At follow up, 34 people who had surgery and lost weight developed blood cancer, compared to 51 people in the non-surgery group. The group that did not undergo surgery still had severe levels of obesity.

Women with high blood sugar at the beginning of the study were found to particularly benefit from obesity surgery.

Corresponding author Magdalena Taube, Associate Professor of Molecular and Clinical Medicine at Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, said: “The benefit of the surgery is linked to baseline blood glucose levels. The reduced risk of haematological cancer was much more pronounced if the women’s blood sugar levels were high at the beginning, which clearly shows that blood sugar is an important factor in cancer development.”

She went on to say: “The results provide further support of considering obesity a risk factor for haematological cancer, and that bariatric surgery can reduce the risk of blood cancer in obese women.”

It is known that women have a higher risk of cancer than men and that being overweight increases the risk of a number of cancers. Little is known however about the link between obesity, weight loss and blood cancers.

This latest study set out to explore that link and found that most of the blood cancers seen in the participants were lymphomas. In the group that underwent obesity surgery, there was a 55% reduction in the risk of developing lymphoma. The figure for all blood cancers was 40%.

Looking in more detail at the findings, the research team say the processes behind the link between obesity and blood cancer are multifaceted and there are a number of things at play, including chronic inflammation and a genetic risk factor for blood cancer.

Metabolic improvements that come about as a result of obesity surgery, such as reduced inflammation, could be behind the reduced cancer risk, they say.

Read the study in The Lancet Healthy Longevity.

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