Diabetes patients using Ozempic instead of insulin have lower cancer risk

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  • Type 2 diabetes patients on GLP-1 treatments, such as Ozempic, have a lower risk of 10 obesity-related cancers compared to those on insulin and other drugs, according to a new study.
  • GLP-1 treatments for type 2 diabetes have been on the market for nearly 20 years, improving blood sugar control and inducing weight loss.
  • Ozempic, approved in 2017, was one of the first in its class.

Patients with type 2 diabetes taking GLP-1 treatments, which include Ozempic, have a lower chance of developing 10 types of obesity-related cancers than those taking insulin and other diabetes drugs, according to a study published on Friday.

GLP-1 treatments for type 2 diabetes have been on the market for nearly 20 years. The newer generation – such as Novo Nordisk’s Ozempic and Eli Lilly’s Mounjaro – are far more effective at controlling blood sugar levels and inducing weight loss. Ozempic was the first of the newer generation in the class to be approved, in 2017.

In the study published on Friday in medical journal JAMA Network Open, researchers examined the medical records of 1.6 million patients with type 2 diabetes who had no prior history of 13 types of obesity-related cancers including gallbladder cancer and kidney cancer.

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The study did not specify which GLP-1 medicines the patients took, but the records were for patients on these medicines or insulin or the diabetes drug metformin between March 2005 and November 2018. Ozempic was only approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in December 2017.

Ozempic medication boxes are pictured in a pharmacy. Patients with type 2 diabetes taking GLP-1 treatments, which include Ozempic, have a lower chance of developing 10 types of obesity-related cancers than those taking insulin and other diabetes drugs, according to a study published on Friday. (SEBASTIEN BOZON/AFP via Getty Images)

The study found that the patients treated with a GLP-1 therapy instead of insulin “had a significant risk reduction” in 10 of those cancers.

The findings are “preliminary evidence of the potential benefit” of GLP-1 drugs for cancer prevention in high-risk population, the researchers concluded. They also said that studies of the newer generation of these medicines for their cancer preventative effects are warranted.

The authors of the study did not report having received funds from drugmakers who market these medicines.

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The versions of these medicines that are approved to treat obesity, and have been shown to help patients lose as much as 20% of their weight on average, have exploded in popularity, leading to record profits for Novo and Lilly.

Lilly’s Mounjaro and weight-loss therapy Zepbound, as well as Novo’s rival medicines Ozempic and Wegovy are already being studied to see whether they can improve health in many other ways, ranging from alcohol addiction to sleep apnea.

In March, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Wegovy for lowering the risk of stroke and heart attack in overweight or obese adults who do not have diabetes.