Side Effects of Victoza and Byetta—Pancreatitis…Cancer??

(September 17, 2011)

Careful review was done on two popular, long-lasting diabetes drugs, Byetta and the newest kid on the block, Victoza, after recent data warned prolonged use might find diabetics more susceptible to pancreatitis and thyroid cancer.

This week the European Association for the Study of Diabetes will meet in Portugal to discuss the potential dangers of Byetta (manufactured by Amylin Pharmaceuticals and Eli Lily & Co.) as well as Novo Nordisk’s Victoza.  Although the manufacturers claim the drugs are safe and have not been proven to increase patient’s cancer risk, a review of data of the side effects by researchers at UCLA showed that patients whotake Byetta and similar medications were six times as likely to develop pancreatitis, which raises the risk for tumors.

These GLP-1 drugs mimic GLP-1 hormones, which stimulate natural insulin production in diabetics.  Even though manufacturers insist their diabetes medications are safe, researcher at UCLA, Peter Butler, said many new studies prove the opposite. “There are now several animal studies as well as clinical reports from humans that taken together raise concern that there may well be serious unexpected side effects of the GLP-1 class of drugs on the pancreas.”  According to Butler the drugs may promote unnecessary production of pancreatic duct cells that may then partially block the passage of digestive enzymes causing local pancreatic inflammation – a risk factor for pancreatic cancer.

Victoza is relatively new, having just received FDA approval on January 25, although it was approved in Europe last July.  Victoza is designed to stimulate insulin secretion when high blood sugar is present.  The advantage of Victoza over Byetta is it can be injected once daily, anytime, as compared to Byetta, which is taken twice daily, with meals.  (However, a once weekly Byetta is being examined by the FDA and may be available soon).  Byetta and Victoza are both valuable treatments for type 2 diabetes.   Both have the advantage of decreased appetite resulting in weight loss, however, patients complain of stomach pain, severe nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness and horrible headaches.  Both cause a delay in stomach emptying and may interfere with the absorption of medications taken by mouth.  Serious side effects include inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis), which may be severe and can lead to death.  Both medications have been associated with benign thyroid tumors in rats.  Victoza has been associated with malignant tumors in rats at doses equivalent to recommended human doses. The Diabetes Control Center would not use either medication in a patient with a history of thyroid cancer or family history of such cancer.

Most experts acknowledge that the number of problems reported to the FDA typically only represent 1% – 10% of the actual number of adverse issues that have been experienced by users of prescription medications.

It is awesome that these newer, long lasting medications have been introduced, but the trade-off can be fatal.   Despite all of these documented risks and warnings, many diabetic patients report they finally have their lives back and for the first time have regulated blood sugar levels, are losing weight and enjoy their new found energy.   It is a personal decision whether to live in fear that the side effects of these new medications will one day kill you themselves.

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