Potential Link between Diabetes Medicine and Pancreatic Cancer

Recent studies have revealed that two popularly prescribed diabetes medicines may increase the patient’s risk of pancreatic cancer.


The fourth largest killer of both men and women is pancreatic cancer. This outcome is largely because pancreatic cancer is often not diagnosed until it is so advanced that recovery chances are slim. The five-year survival rate after a pancreatic cancer diagnosis is only about 5%.

Pancreatic cancer has long been linked to diabetes, a disease which is on the upswing in the United States. Although the relationship has been established, the exact reason for the link has remained under speculation; however there is no agreement about which condition came first.

Some studies showed a marked difference between diabetes patients treated with metformin and insulin or insulin secretagogues. The former had 60% less incidence of a pancreatic cancer diagnosis, while insulin patients experienced the cancer at twice the rate of patients who had never taken it. Metformin may actually protect the body from developing pancreatic cancer.

Animal studies have started showing abnormal growth in the pancreatic gland after administration of certain diabetes drugs called sitagliptin (Januvia) and exenatide (Byetta).
Using the FDA’s database of patients taking these drugs for five consecutive years starting in 2004, an alarming statistic was found: these patients were at least 2.5 times more likely to develop pancreatic cancer than other diabetes patients.

Recent Developments

The American Diabetes Association (ADA) wants the public to have all the information available to make proper decisions for their own health care. Toward that end, it has called for a new evaluation of the drugs Januvia, Victoza, Byetta, Onglyza, and some others. These drugs mimic the way hormones stimulate insulin release.

The drug makers have agreed to cooperate, although each has released a statement saying its own studies do not support these allegations.

In addition, European health regulators and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration are studying the possibilities that these same drugs cause pancreas inflammation, which may lead to this hard-to-detect cancer.

A University of California study led by diabetes expert Dr. Peter Butler examined the bodies of those who died from causes other than pancreatic cancer. He found more pancreatic lesions in patients who had taken Januvia or Byetta than anyone else, diabetic or not. He even found one previously undiscovered pancreatic tumor in a patient who had taken one of these drugs.

Related News:

Two diabetes drugs linked to pancreatic cancer risk. http://wrightnewsletter.com/2011/09/29/diabetes-drugs
Diabetes and pancreatic cancer. http://www.qualityhealth.com/diabetes-articles/diabetes-pancreatic-cancer
Drugmakers to cooperate in safety review of diabetes drugs. http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/06/12/us-diabetes-safety-idUSBRE95B17J20130612