Review article|Articles in Press

Obesity, metabolic and bariatric surgery, and cancer prevention: what do we need to learn and how do we get there?

Published:February 06, 2023DOI:


      Obesity and associated metabolic dysfunction are on the rise in the United States and around the world. Metabolic dysfunction often leads to chronic disease, including cancer. Recent evidence suggests that weight loss among individuals with obesity may decrease cancer risk. Metabolic and bariatric surgery (MBS) leads to greater maximum and sustained weight loss than nonsurgical dietary strategies and demonstrates the most convincing evidence that weight loss lowers cancer risk. Caloric restriction diets combined with GLP-1 receptor agonists demonstrate weight loss intermediate between MBS and other nonsurgical diet strategies so long as individuals consistently take the medication. Weight regain after initial loss is a major problem with all weight loss strategies. To better prevent cancer in individuals with obesity, we need to individualize weight loss strategies, determining what strategy works for a given individual and how to implement it. We need to learn (1) what an individual’s impediments to initial and sustained weight loss are; (2) what the optimal weight loss strategy, be it diet modification, diet modification + medication, or MBS followed by diet modification, is; (3) how exercise(s) should be incorporated into weight loss strategies; (4) where medications fit into the treatment strategy of individuals with obesity; and (5) what the mechanisms driving the influence of MBS on cancer risk are. We also need to (6) explore expanding the eligibility of MBS to individuals with a body mass index <35 kg/m2. Answers to these questions require a better understanding of how MBS impacts cancer risk, including in which groups (women versus men, which racial and ethnic groups, which cancers, which MBS procedure) MBS works best to reduce risk. The National Cancer Institute, through new funding opportunities, hopes to advance our understanding of how obesity drives cancer risk and how individuals with obesity can prevent cancer development and, among those with cancer, prevent disease recurrence.


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