Thursday, March 29, 2012

Diabetic Surgery Uncovers Irrational Weight Biases


In case you missed the news, two recent studies (here and here) published in the New England Journal of Medicine demonstrated dramatic superiority of surgery over intensive medical management in the treatment of type 2 diabetes.

Now I'm not going to get into the studies here and dissect them for you, but I think that they were well done studies, and while admittedly we still don't know what their long, long, term benefit will be, at 2 years out, they look damn good with surgery coming out worlds better than "intensive medical therapy" for the treatment (and remission in many cases) of type 2 diabetes.

Of course time's definitely a fair concern. Meaning what if 5 or 10 years down the road the folks who had the surgery are no better off than those on medical therapy? Thing is, based on what we know already about the surgeries involved, all have well known 5 year data, and the bypasses and diversions much longer than that, and those studies, while they weren't specifically designed to look at diabetes alone, did look at weight and medical comorbidity regains, and I certainly don't recall anything that suggested diabetes returned with a vengeance.

So basically here we have a surgical intervention that is dramatically better than a medical one, for a condition that causes cumulative damage and can wreak havoc on a person's quality and quantity of life.

Yet many MDs, allied health professionals and health reporters, including some who I know, respect, and admire, are taking this opportunity to discuss how we shouldn't be looking to surgical solutions for diabetes because patients could instead use their forks and feet. While there's no argument about the fact that in a ideal world everyone would take it upon themselves to live the healthiest lives possible, there's two problems with that argument. Firstly, not everyone is interested in changing their lifestyle, and secondly, statistically speaking, the majority of even those who are interested and successful with lifestyle change will ultimately regress - the simple fact remains that we don't yet have a proven, reproducible and sustainable approach to lifestyle change.

And what of those folks not wanting to change?  I say, "so what?".   Since when did MDs, allied health professionals or health columnists earn the right to judge others on their abilities or desires to change? Our job is to provide patients with information - all information - including information on lifestyle change, medical management and surgery. We can even provide patients with our opinions as to which road we think may be best for them, and why, but honestly, given the results from these studies, I'm not sure how anyone could make an evidence based case that surgery isn't a very real and powerful option that ought to be discussed with all of their obese or overweight type 2 diabetics.

Unless of course that someone has some form of weight (or simply anti-surgery) bias.

Let me give you another example. Let's say there was a surgical procedure that folks with breast cancer could undergo that would reduce their risk of breast cancer recurrence by roughly 30%.  Do you think anyone would question a woman's desire to have it? I can't imagine. And yet lifestyle - weight loss and exercise has indeed been shown to reduce risk of breast cancer recurrence by 30%. Think people would dare suggest the women choosing surgery were, "taking the easy way out", that they should just use their forks and feet?

We've got to get over ourselves.

Until we have a proven, remotely comparable, reproducible, sustainable, non-surgical option, if you bash the surgical option on its surface for being "easy", or "wrong", you might want to do a bit of soul searching as to whether or not you're practicing good medical caution, or if instead you're practicing plain, old, irrational bias.

[and for new readers to ensure there's no confusion - I'm not a surgeon]

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