Type 2 Diabetes Drugs Byetta and Januvia Linked to Cancer  

by Terry Bryant

Type 2 Diabetes is a leading cause of illness in this country, with nearly 1 out of every 10 Americans suffering from the disease and approximately 1.5 million new cases being diagnosed each year. The scope of this problem calls for safe and easy-to-use treatment options, particularly those that allow patients to monitor and regulate their blood sugar at home.

Unfortunately, not all treatments that receive FDA approval turn out to be safe for all individuals. The type 2 diabetes medications Byetta® and Januvia® have been associated with an increased cancer risk. Both drugs are incretin-based therapies, or incretic mimetics, which work by stimulating or inhibiting the body’s normal hormonal function. They are generally considered effective and safe drugs, so they are widely prescribed. Here is what you need to know.

The Risks of Byetta®

Byetta® is the brand name for an injectable pen that releases the drug exenatide, a compound derived from the saliva of the Gila Monster, into the bloodstream of patients with type 2 diabetes. The medication works by stimulating insulin secretion and inhibiting glucagon, a hormone that helps to increase blood sugars. In other words, it mimics these hormones. Byetta® must typically be injected into the skin 60 minutes prior to the first and the last meals of the day.

Byetta® was considered a promising medication with few negative side effects. It even helped patients to lose weight. However, the drug is now linked to the following serious health conditions:

  • Thyroid cancer
  • Pancreatitis, an inflammation of the pancreas that can be fatal
  • Pancreatic cancer.

Thus far, the link between Byetta® and thyroid cancer has been established only in animal studies. However, there is a direct link between drugs like Byetta® and diseases of the pancreas. The growing body of scientific evidence of a link led the FDA to strengthen its warnings against the drug in 2013.

The Risks of Januvia®

Unlike Byetta®, Januvia® (sitagliptin) comes in tablet form. Otherwise, it works in much the same way as Byetta®, by mimicking the way the human body naturally regulates blood sugar. Specifically, Januvia® inhibits the DPP-4 enzyme, which, if left unchecked, destroys two of the body’s hormones, GLP and GIP. Without these hormones, sugar levels in the body will spike more readily. The standard dosage of Januvia® is 100 mg once a day, taken with or without food.

According to a study published in 2016, Januvia® has also been “significantly associated with a higher risk of pancreatic cancer.” The risk increases when the cumulative dosage of the drug exceeds a certain threshold; thus, patients who have been taking the medication regularly, over a long period of time, are at higher risk. Although the FDA has walked back a warning of the risk of pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer from taking Januvia®, the Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP) continues to monitor this medication and warns that it may be unsafe to use long-term.

The bottom line for both medications? There is a troubling relationship between incretin-based therapies and the development of pancreatic cancer.

Concerned About Incretin-Based Therapies for Type 2 Diabetes?

Do you believe that you or a loved one is suffering from an illness caused by the use of Byetta® or Januvia®? The drug injury attorneys at Terry Bryant Accident & Injury Law are here to listen. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation by filling out our contact form or giving us a call at 1 (800) 444-5000 or locally in the Houston area at (713) 973-8888.