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Weight-Loss Drugs Like Wegovy and Ozempic May Lower Cancer Risk, Study Finds

Popular weight-loss medications such as Wegovy and Ozempic might do more than just help shed pounds—they could also reduce the risk of certain cancers. According to a study published on July 5 in JAMA Network Open, researchers have discovered that individuals with type 2 diabetes treated with GLP-1 drugs were less likely to be diagnosed with 10 out of 13 obesity-linked cancers compared to those on insulin.

The study highlighted a significant reduction in cancer risk. Specifically, patients on GLP-1 medications had more than a 50% lower incidence of gallbladder cancer, meningioma, pancreatic cancer, and hepatocellular carcinoma (a type of liver cancer). Additionally, these drugs were associated with reduced risks of ovarian, colon, esophageal, and kidney cancers, as well as multiple myeloma (a bone marrow cancer) and endometrial cancer (cancer of the uterine lining).

Obesity is known to trigger chronic inflammation and elevated levels of insulin, insulin-like growth factors, and sex hormones, all of which can contribute to cancer development, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). GLP-1 medications interact with systems related to insulin production, which may explain their impact on reducing cancer risk, the researchers noted.

However, the study also found that GLP-1 drugs did not lower the risk of postmenopausal breast cancer, the most common obesity-linked cancer according to CDC data. Additionally, there was no reduced risk for stomach or thyroid cancer. Previous research has suggested that GLP-1s might interact with insulin production in ways that could harm the thyroid, and patients are advised to be aware of these thyroid-related risks, which are listed on the medication's packaging.

The study also revealed that the overall cancer risk for individuals with type 2 diabetes did not differ significantly between those treated with GLP-1s and those on metformin, another common diabetes medication. Interestingly, the risk of kidney cancer was higher among GLP-1 users.

Researchers from the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and the MetroHealth System conducted the study by analyzing over a decade's worth of medical records from nearly 1.7 million people with type 2 diabetes.

While these findings are promising, further research is needed to confirm the potential cancer-preventive benefits of GLP-1 receptor agonists (GLP-1RAs). The study authors emphasized the need for additional preclinical and clinical studies to explore this potential benefit in high-risk populations. 

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