CLEVELAND — Common diabetes medications may provide a surprising additional benefit — reducing the risk of colorectal cancer. Scientists at Case Western Reserve University are advocating for clinical trials to verify if these drugs, which include the popular weight loss drug semaglutide, can prevent this deadly form of cancer.
The study, published in JAMA Oncology, indicates that these medications might also help in preventing other cancers linked to obesity and diabetes. The Case Western team specifically focused on a class of drugs used to treat Type 2 diabetes, called Glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor agonists (GLP-1 RAs), potentially lowering the risk of colorectal cancer (CRC).
“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,” says the study’s co-lead researcher, Nathan Berger, the Hanna-Payne Professor of Experimental Medicine at the Case Western Reserve School of Medicine.
According to the Mayo Clinic, the GLP-1 agonists class are generally taken daily or weekly and include:
- Dulaglutide (Trulicity) (weekly)
- Exenatide extended-release (Bydureon bcise) (weekly)
- Exenatide (Byetta) (twice daily)
- Semaglutide (Ozempic) (weekly)
- Liraglutide (Victoza, Saxenda) (daily)
- Lixisenatide (Adlyxin) (daily)
- Semaglutide (Rybelsus) (taken by mouth once daily)
Berger explains that GLP-1 RAs, commonly administered using injections, not only lower blood sugar levels and improve insulin sensitivity but also aid in weight management. These drugs have previously shown an ability to reduce major cardiovascular diseases. Notably, the team observed their protective effect against CRC in patients regardless of their weight. Being overweight, obese, or diabetic are known risk factors for increasing the incidence and worsening the prognosis of CRC.
“To our knowledge, this is the first indication this popular weight-loss and anti-diabetic class of drugs reduces incidence of CRC, relative to other anti-diabetic agents,” adds co-lead researcher Rong Xu, a professor at the School of Medicine, in a media release.
The American Cancer Society reports that CRC is the third most common cancer in men and women, with approximately 153,000 new cases annually. It is also the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths, claiming about 52,550 lives each year.
The researchers’ hypothesis that GLP-1 RAs might reduce CRC incidence is supported by their effectiveness as anti-diabetic and weight-loss agents. In their study, among 22,572 patients with diabetes treated with insulin, the team recorded 167 cases of CRC.
In contrast, among another 22,572 patients treated with GLP-1 RAs, researchers noted only 94 cases of CRC, marking a 44-percent reduction in incidence. Similarly, a comparison between 18,518 patients treated with Metformin and an equal number treated with GLP-1 RAs showed a 25-percent reduction in CRC incidence.
“The research is critically important for reducing incidence of CRC in patients with diabetes,
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South West News Service writer Stephen Beech contributed to this report.