Trulicity, Ozempic, Victoza, and Rybelsus…you’ve probably heard of at least a few of these brand-name drugs on TV. They’re a relatively new class of drugs first approved by the FDA in 2005 to treat type 2 diabetes. Since then, these drugs have been found to reduce blood sugar, increase sensitivity to insulin, reduce hunger, promote weight loss, and reduce heart disease risk. Now, a new study is the first to link these drugs to a significant reduction of colorectal cancer risk.

How These Multitasking Drugs Work

The drugs are glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1) agonists. GLP-1 drugs increase the production of insulin by the pancreas in response to eating. Insulin is the hormone that helps your cells use glucose for energy. Since the first GLP-1 was approved in 2005, these drugs have also been found to promote weight loss by curbing hunger and slowing digestion. The combination of weight loss and lower blood sugar has resulted in a decreased risk for cardiovascular disease.

Because both diabetes and obesity are risk factors for colorectal cancer, researchers from Case Western Reserve University wanted to know if GLP-1 drugs reduce the risk of colon cancer, the third most commonly diagnosed type of cancer and the second-leading cause of cancer deaths, according to the American Cancer Society.

The researchers reviewed the medical records of 1.2 million Americans between 2005 and 2019. They looked at anyone with type 2 diabetes newly started on a diabetes medication. The other two most-used medications are insulin and metformin. The study is published in the American Medical Society journal JAMA Oncology.

Patients who started insulin, metformin, or a GLP-1 agonist were matched for age, sex, weight, smoking, alcohol use, family history and other colorectal-cancer risk factors, and then compared to see who would develop colorectal cancer over 15 years. These were the key results for 1.2 million patients matched…

Obesity is a known risk for colorectal cancer, but the study found that the reduced risk was seen in both obese and normal weight patients. This shows that GLP-1 agonists may have a yet unknown protective activity against cancer. More research is needed to explore the effects of these drugs on colorectal cancer as well as other obesity-related cancers.

Now Approved for Weight Loss Only

Early GLP-1 agonists were approved to only treat type 2 diabetes, with weight loss as an added benefit. But if you don’t have diabetes and are struggling to lose weight, talk to your doctor about GLP-1 drugs. Because these new drugs continue to show significant success in the weight-loss department, the FDA has approved Wegovy for obesity without type 2 diabetes. The newest GLP-1 drug is Zepbound and has also been approved for obesity management with or without type 2 diabetes. Zepbound has demonstrated weight loss in clinical trials of 34 to 58 pounds, depending on the dose.

Source: Study titled “GLP-1 Receptor Agonists and Colorectal Cancer Risk in Drug-Naive Patients with Type 2 Diabetes, With and Without Overweight/Obesity,” led by researchers at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, Cleveland, published in JAMA Oncology.

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