Ozempic may lower risk for certain cancers: New research

GLP-1 drugs such as Ozempic and Wegovy may lower the risk of developing certain obesity-related cancers, according to a new study from researchers at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. 

Researchers found people with type 2 diabetes who were being treated with the medications were significantly less likely to develop 10 of 13 obesity-associated cancers than those taking insulin, according to the findings published July 5 in JAMA Network Open. The retrospective study is based on an analysis of the medical records of over 1.6 million type 2 diabetes patients from 2005 to 2018.

The risk was reduced by more than half for gallbladder cancer, meningioma, pancreatic cancer and hepatocellular carcinoma. Esophageal, colorectal, endometrial, ovarian, multiple myeloma and kidney were among the other cancers for which there was a significant risk reduction. The study did not find a difference in cancer risk reduction among those treated with GLP-1s compared with those taking metformin, an older diabetes drug. 

In an interview with Bloomberg, Arif Kamal, MD, chief patient officer at the American Cancer Society and who was not involved in the research, called the new evidence on GLP-1s "compelling."

"Obesity is the tobacco of our age when it comes to cancer risk," he said. An estimated 40% of new cancer diagnoses in the U.S. are linked to excess weight, according to the CDC. 

However, the medications were not tied to a reduced risk of postmenopausal breast cancer, which is the most common obesity-associated cancer among women, according to the CDC. Additionally, the study did not find an association between GLP-1s and a reduced risk for stomach or thyroid cancer. Previous research in rodents has said GLP-1s may interact with insulin production in a way that may increase the risk of thyroid cancers. Packaging for medications including Ozempic carry warnings related to possible thyroid tumors. 

Additional studies are needed to better establish whether GLP-1 drugs actually prevent obesity-related cancers, including those that randomly assign cohorts to take the GLP-1s and other treatments, experts told Bloomberg.

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