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Popular Weight-Loss Drugs Reduce Risk of 10 Obesity-Related Cancers

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A new study finds that glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) receptor agonists may have preventative benefits for those at risk of cancer.

Wegovy, Mounjaro, Ozempic, and other popular weight-loss drugs known as glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) receptor agonists have been found to reduce the risk of least 10 obesity-related cancers in patients with Type 2 diabetes, according to a new study published July 5 in JAMA Network Open.

“In this study of patients with [Type 2 diabetes] who were cancer free at baseline, taking GLP-1RAs (GLP-1 receptor agonists) compared with insulin was associated with a lower risk of 10 of 13 [obesity-associated cancers],” the researchers wrote.

Risk Reduced Compared to Insulin, Not Metformin

The retrospective study examined the effect GLP-1 receptor agonists had on 13 cancers linked to excess body fat and exacerbated by Type 2 diabetes.

Researchers from Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland, Ohio, looked at the electronic health records of 113 million patients from 64 health care organizations across the United States, drawing from a diverse demographic.

The research team identified over 1.6 million patients with Type 2 diabetes who had no history of the 13 obesity-associated cancers and who had been prescribed GLP-1 receptor agonists, insulin, or metformin, a diabetes drug, between 2005 and 2018.

Of the 13 obesity-associated cancers studied, the research team found that GLP-1 receptor agonists were linked with a significantly reduced risk of the following 10 cancers compared to insulin:

  • Gallbladder cancer by 65 percent
  • Meningioma (a type of brain cancer) by 63 percent
  • Pancreatic cancer by 59 percent
  • Hepatocellular carcinoma by 53 percent
  • Ovarian cancer by 48 percent
  • Colorectal cancer by 46 percent
  • Multiple myeloma by 41 percent
  • Esophageal cancer by 40 percent
  • Endometrial cancer by 26 percent
  • Kidney cancer by 24 percent

Patients prescribed GLP-1 receptor agonists saw no decrease in cancer risk compared to metformin. The GLP-1 receptor agonists actually increased the risk of kidney cancer compared to metformin—a notable difference since insulin lowered the risk of this cancer.

Additionally, those prescribed GLP-1 receptor agonists had a 27 percent lower risk of stomach cancer compared to patients prescribed insulin. However, the research team said this decreased risk was not statistically significant.

The study was unable to demonstrate a reduction in the risk of postmenopausal breast cancer or thyroid cancer.

Use in Cancer Treatment Uncertain

GLP-1 receptor agonists are among the most commonly prescribed medications, with about one in eight U.S. adults reporting use of them, mainly for weight loss, diabetes, or to prevent heart attacks or strokes in those with heart disease. The new study’s researchers mentioned that the drugs may be beneficial as a complementary treatment in cancer therapy.

However, the medication isn’t without side effects. Researchers have found patients can experience adverse side effects, primarily related to gastrointestinal issues, such as nausea and vomiting—which could be especially hard for cancer patients to tolerate.

“Given that [Type 2 diabetes] and overweight or obesity have negative impacts on patients during cancer therapy, [GLP-1 receptor agonists] should be evaluated for control of these comorbid conditions during cancer therapy as well as for secondary prevention to delay cancer recurrence,” the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine researchers wrote.

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