Study Links Januvia, Byetta Diabetes Drugs to Pancreatitis, Pancreatic Cancer

Researchers at University of California-Los Angeles have released a study that begins to draw an association with the Type 2 diabetes drugs Byetta and Januvia and an increased risk of pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer.

According to a report from, the new study finds that people taking the relatively new drugs Byetta and Januvia face a six-times greater risk of developing pancreatitis than diabetics using older medications to keep blood glucose at healthy levels. For people taking Byetta, there is a 2.9-times greater risk of developing pancreatic cancer. Among Januvia patients, the risk is 2.7-times.

This is just the latest study to suggest these drugs, which promote the production of glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1) proteins, carry at least some serious moderate- to long-term health risks. The researchers cautioned their study only begins to draw the link between taking these drugs and cancer of the pancreas or other pancreas maladies.

In 2010, the Food and Drug Administration issued an alert stating that people taking GLP-1 analog drugs like Byetta and Januvia may be at risk of developing these potentially life-threatening cancers. By 2008, the agency had received at least 30 reports of people suffering from acute pancreatitis after starting Byetta. Two of those people had died and another four were hospitalized to treat the complications. The next year, the FDA ordered makers of Byetta to conduct post-market safety studies of the drug.

These studies are to help identify the possible risk factors which may alert prescribing physicians to avoid them in some patients. For example, a person with a history of pancreas or thyroid problems may want to avoid a drug like Byetta or Januvia.

In addition to the risks posed to the pancreas by taking these two drugs, the research also noted that people taking Byetta could be at a greater risk of developing thyroid cancer. Previous studies suggest Byetta could also increase the risk of liver cancer.

To arrive at the conclusion, the team at UCLA’s Larry L. Hillblom Islet Research Center reviewed data compiled by the Food and Drug Administration through its Adverse Reaction reporting database. People taking these drugs at various doses between 2004 and 2009 were studied. They warned that the perceived increase risk of pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer noted in their study could be the result of the frequency at which doctors report adverse reactions to the FDA.

The director of the Diabetes Treatment Center at SUNY Health Science Center Brooklyn told that the research should raise some concerns but agreed with the authors that there may be some benefits to taking Byetta or Januvia in the treatment of diabetes and that people taking the drugs who become aware of this or other studies making similar associations should not immediately stop taking them.

Further, patients suffering from diabetes should be treated on an individual basis and those with family histories of pancreatic or thyroid problems may best to avoid Byetta or Januvia.

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