Popular weight loss and diabetes drugs lower risk of certain cancers, study finds

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A new study has found that people with type 2 diabetes who are treated with a class of GLP-1 drugs are significantly less likely to be diagnosed with 10 of 13 obesity-associated cancers.


New research shows that GLP-1 drugs such as Ozempic and Wegovy may reduce the risk of certain cancers.

People who are overweight or obese are at greater risk for 13 types of cancer, and the risk increases the longer a person is overweight and the more overweight he or she becomes. About 40% of new cancer diagnoses are associated with being overweight, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2021, there were about 170 new diagnoses per 100,000 people, according to CDC data.

But a study published Friday in the journal JAMA Network Open found that people with type 2 diabetes who were treated with a class of GLP-1 drugs were significantly less likely to be diagnosed with 10 of 13 obesity-associated cancers than people who took insulin.

The risk was cut by more than half for gallbladder cancer, meningioma, pancreatic cancer and hepatocellular carcinoma, a type of liver cancer. It was also significantly reduced for ovarian cancer, colorectal cancer, multiple myeloma, esophageal cancer, uterine cancer and kidney cancer.

Being overweight can cause changes in the body, such as long-term inflammation and higher-than-normal levels of insulin, insulin-like growth factor and sex hormones that can lead to cancer, the CDC says. And GLP-1 drugs interact with systems related to insulin production.

The new findings linking GLP-1 treatment to a reduced risk of certain cancers “compare favorably” with similar effects associated with intensive lifestyle interventions and metabolic bariatric surgery found in other studies, the study authors wrote.

However, the study found that GLP-1 treatment was not associated with a lower risk of breast cancer after menopause. According to data from the CDC, breast cancer is the most common cancer linked to obesity.

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The risk of stomach cancer or thyroid cancer was also not reduced. In fact, other research has shown that GLP-1s can interact with the body’s insulin production in ways that negatively affect the thyroid, and the study authors note that patients should be aware of potential thyroid-related risks listed on the drug’s packaging.

The new study also found that the risk of cancer diagnosis for people with type 2 diabetes did not differ between those treated with GLP-1s compared to those treated with metformin. In fact, the risk of kidney cancer diagnosis was higher among those taking GLP-1s than among those taking metformin.

For this study, researchers from Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and the MetroHealth System analyzed more than a decade of medical records from nearly 1.7 million people with type 2 diabetes.

More information is needed on how reduced cancer risk may relate to the magnitude of weight loss, but the findings provide “preliminary evidence of the potential benefit of GLP-1RAs for cancer prevention in at-risk groups and support further preclinical and clinical studies,” the study authors wrote.

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