Markers from breast could predict weight loss surgery outcome

Gastric bypass surgery is only recommended for weight loss as a last resort after diet and exercise have failed. While the operations can be wildly successful, they don't work for everyone, there is a significant cost involved, and there are risks. Researchers at the University of North Dakota have spotted a couple of biomarkers that might help to pick out the women who could benefit the most.

Up to half of post-menopausal breast cancer deaths in the U.S. are linked to being overweight, and, as women lose weight, it seems that their risk is also reduced. The researchers looked at two biomarkers linked with breast cancer--adiponectin and prostate specific antigen (PSA)--in women who had gastric bypass surgery to see if there could be a link between the breast cancer markers and women's ability to lose weight.

All of the women in the study lost weight. The researchers found that low levels of prostate specific antigen from fluid taken from the nipple was linked to weight loss in post-menopausal women, and high adiponectin levels in the blood suggested weight loss in pre-menopausal women. The researchers recognize that this is a small and early study and needs further validation.

Even though the gastric bypass is by now common and routine surgery, there are still risks--surgery requires an anesthetic, which can cause problems in obese people, surgery requires people to radically change how they eat, and there is always the chance of infection. Further, the operation doesn't change any psychological pressures to eat. That said, gastric bypasses can save lives by cutting the risk of diabetes, stroke and heart disease, so a biomarker that suggests which patients it might work for, even if it means a needle in the breast, could be a step toward safer and more effective weight loss for at least a subgroup of women.

- see the abstract