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Diabetes, weight-loss drugs like Ozempic may lower odds for colon cancer

By Ernie Mundell, HealthDay News
A new study found that found that people with diabetes who took glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor agonists like Ozempic had lower odds for colon cancer than folks who took diabetes meds such as metformin or insulin. File Photo by Ida Marie Odgaard/EPA-EFE/
A new study found that found that people with diabetes who took glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor agonists like Ozempic had lower odds for colon cancer than folks who took diabetes meds such as metformin or insulin. File Photo by Ida Marie Odgaard/EPA-EFE/

Could blockbuster diabetes and weight-loss meds such as Ozempic, Wegovy, Mounjaro and Zepbound also lower users' odds for colon cancer?

New research suggests they might.

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All of these medications (and more) fall into a class of diabetes drugs known as glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor agonists (GLP-1 RAs).

The new study, from researchers at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine in Cleveland, found that people with diabetes who took one of these drugs had lower odds for colon cancer than folks who took diabetes meds such as metformin or insulin.

"To our knowledge, this is the first indication this popular weight-loss and anti-diabetic class of drugs reduces incidence of colorectal cancer, relative to other anti-diabetic agents," study co-lead author Rong Xu, a professor at Case Western's School of Medicine, said in a school news release.

The findings were published Thursday in the journal JAMA Oncology.

GLP-1 RAs are typically given via injection and include semaglutide (Ozempic when used to treat diabetes, Wegovy when used for weight loss), tirzepatide (Mounjaro for diabetes, Zepbound for weight loss), and other diabetes meds such as dulaglutide (Trulicity), liraglutide (Saxenda) and exenatide (Byetta).

In the new study, Xu and co-lead author Dr. Nathan Berger tracked outcomes for 1.2 million Americans with diabetes whose medical records were stored in a national database. All had been treated with some type of diabetes drug between 2005 and 2019.

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Patients who were given a GLP-1 RA to control diabetes had 44% lower odds of developing colon cancer over the study period compared to people who got insulin, the team reported.

For example, among about 22,600 people using insulin, 167 cases of colorectal cancer were reported. But among the same number of people who got a GLP-1 RA medication, that number fell to 94.

Compared to patients who were using metformin, those who took a GLP-1 RA had a 25% reduction in their odds of developing colon cancer, the team also found.

The findings held regardless of whether or not the patients were overweight or obese, the researchers noted.

"Our results clearly demonstrate that GLP-1 RAs are significantly more effective than popular anti-diabetic drugs, such as metformin or insulin, at preventing the development of CRC [colorectal cancer]," said Berger, a professor of experimental medicine at the Case Western.

According to the American Cancer Society, colorectal cancers are the third leading type of cancer in the United States, with 153,000 new cases diagnosed each year. It's the number two cancer killer, taking more than 52,550 lives annually.

More information

Find out more about GLP-1 RA medications at the Mayo Clinic.

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