Research shows a possible link between incretin mimetic drugs like Victoza to pancreatic cancer, potentially putting millions of Americans at risk of harm.
Victoza is an incretin mimetic, a class of type 2 diabetes drugs which includes Byetta and Januvia.
In 2013, more than three million type 2 diabetics in the U.S. took an incretin mimetic drug to lower their blood sugar. Not surprisingly, Victoza is Novo Nordisk’s best-selling drug, bringing in more than $3 billion in sales in 2016 alone. But research shows a possible link between incretin mimetic drugs like Victoza to pancreatic cancer, potentially putting millions of Americans at risk of harm.
How Does Victoza Work?
Incretin mimetics work by regulating incretin production in patients with type 2 diabetes. Incretins are a type of hormone which help release insulin in the body.
Victoza is a once-daily injection of a substance that mimics an incretin known as Glucagon-Like Peptide-1 (GLP-1), but unlike GLP-1, it is resistant to metabolization by the enzyme Dipeptidyl-Peptidase-4 (DDP-4). Drugs like Victoza are commonly referred to as GLP-1 agonists.
While this process lowers patients’ blood glucose levels, it may do so at the expense of their pancreas. Victoza may overstimulate the pancreas, causing serious side effects like pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer.
What are Victoza's Side Effects?
The FDA warns that Victoza side effects may include:
- Kidney problems and failure: If patients suffer from the above side effects (nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea) they can quickly become dehydrated. If left untreated, this can lead to kidney failure and require dialysis.
- Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia): If Victoza is used with another blood-sugar-lowering drug, like insulin, patients are susceptible to hypoglycemia. Symptoms may include: headache, dizziness, sweating, weakness, confusion, hunger, and a fast heartbeat.
- Thyroid tumors: These tumors may be malignant and cause medullary thyroid cancer. Symptoms may include a lump or swelling in the neck, hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, or shortness of breath. The FDA has issued a black box warning—the highest warning it can bestow—for thyroid c-cell tumors.
- Pancreatitis: Inflammation of the pancreas
How Do I Know If I Have Pancreatitis?
Researchers have discovered a link between Victoza and pancreatitis. Pancreatitis is caused when digestive enzymes in the pancreas activate before leaving the pancreas, resulting in inflammation. If this happens too many times, scar tissue can develop in the pancreas.
Pancreatitis symptoms may include:
- Abdominal tenderness and pain
- Rapid pulse
Pancreatitis can become a chronic condition that may cause serious complications, including:
- Pseudocysts: Cyst-like formations that develop in the pancreas, collecting fluid and debris
- Kidney failure
- Pancreatic cancer
What are the Signs of Pancreatic Cancer?
People who suffer from chronic pancreatitis are at a higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer. Not surprisingly, researchers are investigating complaints that incretin mimetics may have caused their pancreatic cancer.
It can take years for symptoms to appear, and then usually only once the cancer has spread outside of the pancreas. According to the American Cancer Society, these symptoms may include:
- Dark urine
- Light-colored or greasy stools
- Itchy skin
- Abdominal pain
- Back pain
- Weight loss and lack of appetite
- Gallbladder or liver enlargement: Sometimes a large lump will appear below the right side of the ribcage
- Blood clots
- Abnormal, uneven fatty tissue
Does Victoza Cause Pancreatic Cancer?
Incretin mimetics can cause pancreas cells to multiply, potentially leading to increased weight of the pancreas and the growth of precancerous lesions.
Researchers have yet to find conclusive evidence showing a link between incretin mimetics and pancreatic cancer. But while there still isn’t enough research to prove an association, there also isn’t enough research disproving one.
It’s important to note that pancreatic cancer develops slowly. Researchers at John Hopkins University analyzed samples from patients who died of metastatic pancreatic cancer and discovered that it took an average of 11.7 years from the first cell mutation in the pancreas until the first cancer cells were formed.
Victoza was only approved in 2010, so if there is a connection between the drug and pancreatic cancer, the majority of cases may not appear for a few more years.
Diabetes expert Dr. Peter Butler has been at the forefront of incretin mimetic research. In 2008, he studied Januvia’s effects on rats and noticed changes in their pancreas which he suspected could lead to cancer in the future. Januvia’s effect on patients, Dr. Butler noted, appeared to be similar to that of estrogen which has been linked to the development of breast tumors in women.
Butler’s observations were supported in a study five years later which found that patients taking Byetta and Januvia had doubled the risk of acute pancreatitis than patients in the control group.
But what is it about incretin mimetics that aggravates the pancreas? According to Dr. Butler’s research, these drugs cause some pancreas cells to multiply. This reaction has the ability to increase the weight of the pancreas and can cause precancerous lesions to grow.
Has the FDA Issued a Pancreatic Cancer Warning?
Patients taking Januvia are 10 times more likely to be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, according to the FDA adverse event database.
Soon after the incretin mimetic Byetta entered the market in 2005, the FDA received complaints of pancreatitis from patients. Interestingly, twenty-two of 30 pancreatitis cases improved after patients stopped taking Byetta.
The FDA noted that complaints of pancreatic side effects weren’t specific to Byetta but were found across other incretin mimetic drugs. Patients taking Januvia, for example, are 10 times more likely to be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, according to the FDA adverse event database.
Since 2010, the FDA has received more than 2,500 reports of Victoza-related pancreatic side effects, including more than 2,300 for pancreatitis (acute and chronic). Roughly 2,400 reports of pancreatitis have been reported for Januvia, and more than 3,000 complaints were made for Byetta.
Since 2013, the FDA has investigated the connection between incretin mimetics and pancreatitis and pancreatic duct metaplasia (precancerous cellular changes), requesting that researchers come back with more evidence showing the relationship between the two.
Need an Attorney?
More than 700 lawsuits have been filed by patients who developed pancreatic cancer after taking Victoza, Byetta, and Januvia. These lawsuits allege that the manufacturers failed to warn that incretin mimetics created an increased risk of pancreatic cancer.
If your or a loved one developed pancreatic cancer after taking Victoza, you may be eligible for a lawsuit against Novo Nordisk. A lawsuit can help recover compensation for medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and more.
Contact us today for a free, no-obligation legal review. It never costs a thing unless we win a verdict award or settlement for you.