A study on behalf of the American Diabetes Association (ADA) showed that patients who took the diabetes drug Onglyza or other incretin-based medications appeared to be at a greater risk for pancreatic cancer as well as pancreatitis.
Onglyza (saxagliptin) is classified as an incretin mimetic, which acts to stimulate the release of insulin to help regulate a patient’s blood sugar level. AstraZeneca and Bristol-Myers Squibb introduced it in 2009.
Onglyza is attractive to some patients because it doesn’t cause weight gain, a common side effect in other Type 2 diabetes drugs. However, the FDA says that it has received reports of serious Onglyza side effects, including an increased risk for acute pancreatitis, pancreatic cancer and thyroid cancer as well as heart failure. Both pancreatic and thyroid cancers are difficult to detect until the later stages of the disease, which makes these side effects even more dangerous for Onglyza patients.
The ADA study, researchers examined pancreatic tissue from organ donors with Type 2 diabetes, including some who took incretin-based medications. In patients on incretin-based medications, researchers found a 40 percent increase in the size of the pancreas that they attributed in part to the reproduction of pancreatic beta cells. They also found pre-cancerous cell growth and small tumors that can become malignant.
Other research has reached different conclusions, so an increased risk in pancreatic cancer for diabetes patients on Onglyza may still be just a possibility. Patients on Onglyza or another incretin-based medication to control diabetes should discuss these findings with their physician.
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