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Diabetes patients may soon be feeling like there is no safe drug alternative to manage their insulin and blood sugar. Two popular drugs, Avandia and Actos have been linked to an increased risk for heart attack, heart failure and bladder cancer. And now three other drugs—Januvia, Byetta and Victoza—may be connected to an increased risk of pancreatic problems, including pancreatic cancer.

All three of these drugs are a relatively new class of drugs being used to treat diabetes and control blood sugar levels by encouraging production of a hormone called glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1). These drugs are used to stimulate the pancreas to secrete more insulin in the blood stream and thus lower blood-sugar levels.

But a study from the University of California – Los Angeles Larry L. Hillblom Islet Research Center shows a possible increased risk of pancreatic cancer as compared to traditional diabetes drugs. That study looked specifically at Byetta and Januvia and examined the FDA’s databse on adverse events that are reported by doctors whose patients use these drugs. The study found a sixfold increase of reported cases of pancreatitis; a 2.9-fold increase in reported cases of pancreatic cancer for Byetta users; and a 2.7-fold increase of pancreatic cancer for those prescribed Januvia.

The researchers—and other medical professionals—say that the study at the very least means that further research needs to be done on this issue. Because the drugs are new, it is too early to draw definitive conclusions. That said, for diabetes patients who already are at an increased risk of developing pancreatic cancer or who already suffer from pancreatic cancer, the study could inform their treatment choices. Additional studies on the link between cancer and DPP-4 inhibitors, which are closely related to Byetta, Januvia and Victoza, over the last several years have indicated similar concerns.

While the link between these diabetes treatments and pancreatic cancer remains inconclusive, the evidence of increased risk has led to some FDA action, at least with regards to Januvia. The Agency has requested that Merck, the maker of Januvia, to update its warning labels to reflect the dangers of the drug, including: mentioning the post-market reports of acute pancreatitis; recommending that healthcare professionals carefully monitor patients for pancreatitis; providing information that Januvia has not been studied in patients with a history of pancreatitis; and advising that Januvia should be used with caution and monitoring in patients with a history of pancreatitis.

As is always the case, more study is needed to confirm these preliminary results. But the preliminary results are concerning in and of themselves—particularly for those who are already at risk of pancreatitis or pancreatic cancer. For more information on diabetes medications and their potential to increase users' relative risk of developing pancreatic cancer and other cancers, you should speak to your doctor. For more information on the current state of the Januvia, Byetta, and/or Victoza pancreatic cancer litigation, you should contact an experienced lawyer already handling these claims.

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