Combating Obesity & Breast Cancer through Bariatric Surgery

Obesity is an incredibly debilitating disease. Many of our patients report that before weight loss surgery, almost everything in their life was harder due to obesity: from sitting on an airplane to going to the store to playing with their kids. Obesity can also increase your risk of conditions such as type 2 diabetes, sleep apnea, high cholesterol, heart attacks, and even cancer. In this article, we’re going to explore the link between obesity and one of the most common cancers in the United States, breast cancer.

What Is Breast Cancer?

As the name suggests, breast cancer is cancer originating in the breasts. Breast cancer can begin in different parts of the breast, and can affect different areas. It generally begins in the lobules (the glands that produce milk) or the ducts (which carry milk to the nipple). Breast cancer can metastasize to other parts of the body via lymphatics and nodes. While breast cancer can occur in both men and women, Johns Hopkins Medicine notes that less than 1 percent of breast cancer patients are men. 

Breast cancer is less dangerous than some other types of cancer, but can still be very dangerous. According to, the five-year survival rate for non-metastatic (cancer that hasn’t yet spread beyond the tumor) invasive breast cancer is 91 percent. Breast cancer is the most common cancer in America for women. A woman is diagnosed with breast cancer roughly every two minutes.

According to the CDC, signs and symptoms of breast cancer include:

  • New lump in the breast or armpit
  • Swelling of any part of the breast
  • Skin irritation on the breast
  • Flaky skin or redness, either on the nipple itself or on the breast
  • Pain in the nipple area
  • Pulling in of the nipple
  • Nipple discharge of blood or other fluid besides breast milk
  • Changes in the shape or size of the breast
  • Pain in any part of the breast

What Causes Breast Cancer?

Many different factors are associated with a higher risk of breast cancer. These include:

  • Age (most breast cancers are found in women who are over 50)
  • Reproductive history (if you start menstruating before age 12, and/or start menopause after age 55, then you’re exposed to hormones for a longer duration and are therefore at a higher risk)
  • A family member with breast cancer or ovarian cancer
  • Radiation therapy before the age of 30
  • Exposure to DES (diethylstilbestrol); if either you or your mother have taken DES, then you’re at a higher risk of breast cancer
  • Dense breasts (which make it harder to identify tumors on a mammogram)
  • Undergoing hormone replacement therapy
  • Taking certain oral contraceptives
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Not being physically active
  • Suffering from an overweight condition or obesity

Obesity and Breast Cancer: A Causal Connection

The link between obesity and breast cancer is very clear. notes that “Overweight and obese women have a higher risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer compared to women who maintain a healthy weight.”

How does excess weight increase the likelihood of developing breast cancer?  One potential reason is that visceral fat–fat that surrounds the vital organs–causes inflammation. Inflammation can cause tissue damage and also increase insulin resistance, which in turn leads the body to produce more insulin to try to make up for the resistance. This leads to more cell division, which in the setting of inflammation could lead to cancer. This is one reason that, as notes, “Extra fat around your belly may increase risk more than the same amount of extra fat around your thighs or hips.”

Another possible cause for the connection between obesity and breast cancer is that fat cells produce estrogen, which means that men and women who suffer from obesity often have higher-than-normal estrogen levels. Estrogen stimulates normal breast tissue as well as the growth of many hormonally-sensitive tumor cells such as those often arising from breast tissue, which can result in the growth of cancers in the breast.

The key point is that weight management and breast cancer prevention go hand in hand because there’s a strong connection between obesity and breast cancer.

There’s also an exercise component. Regular exercise can reduce your risk of contracting breast cancer, and increase your chances of surviving breast cancer, above and beyond what’s expected from any weight loss due to the exercise. Even 75-150 minutes of brisk walking per week can lower your risk of breast cancer.

Can Bariatric Surgery Reduce Your Risk of Breast Cancer?

The good news is that weight loss surgery can substantially reduce your risk of cancer. A report by the CDC notes that maintaining a healthy weight is one of the “most important steps you can take to lower your risk of getting cancer.” The link between obesity and cancer is clear, which means that effective weight management can be very helpful in breast cancer prevention as well as minimizing the risk of recurrence. By helping you level the playing field in your battle against obesity, weight loss surgery can substantially reduce your risk of multiple obesity-related cancers including breast cancer. 

The type of weight loss surgery that you pursue will not meaningfully affect your risk of breast cancer. The gastric bypass, gastric sleeve, and duodenal switch are all effective at treating obesity, and therefore can all reduce the risk of breast cancer.

Taking the Next Step On Your Weight Loss Journey

Obesity is a brutal disease to deal with, and it can put you at a higher risk of many other diseases. It’s important to understand obesity as a cancer risk factor. If you are suffering from obesity, then weight loss surgery is the best gift that you can give yourself.  If you’re ready to take the next step on your weight loss journey, we encourage you to schedule a bariatric assessment with us.

Our patients routinely say that surgery was the best decision they ever made.

“Dr. Long took the time to listen to my situation and he allowed me to voice my fears and concerns as well as ask several questions. He treated me like a valuable human being.”—Martha Lugo, patient.

“I am so happy with the results of my bariatric surgery. I am no longer considered diabetic (even my ophthalmologist has confirmed that I am not diabetic). I can exercise more and have more energy. My weight is almost down to a normal BMI. Lots of people are commenting how much better I look. Now all I have to do is get new clothes!”—Rose Martinez, patient.

If you’re suffering, don’t wait. Call our Denver office today.

Dr. Joshua Long headshot

This page was medically reviewed by Dr. Joshua Long, MD, MBA, FACS, FASMBS. Dr. Long is a double-board-certified bariatric surgeon and bariatric medical director for Parker Adventist Hospital.
Full Bio: Dr. Joshua Long, MD, MBA, FACS, FASMBS
Page Updated: July 31st, 2023

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