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Januvia's cancer risk, other side effects more to consider for diabetics

Jan 2, 2013

As more Americans are diagnosed with diabetes - currently about 1 in 4 already are affected with some form of the disease - they'll all be faced a potentially deadly dilemma: which prescription drug should they and their doctors choose that presents the most benefits and least potentially fatal side effects.

A new report published this week at the Web site calls attention to a newer form of type 2 diabetes drug emerging on the market, Januvia. Januvia is manufactured by Merck is the drug sitagliptin and was first approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2006. Januvia belongs to a class of drugs known as Dipeptidyl peptidase-4 inhibitors (DPP-4 inhibitors). The join other hypoglycemia drugs on the market that work by reducing glucagon and blood glucose levels.

Januvia is quickly emerging on the market mostly because of two main factors, the amount of people being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes is constantly on the rise. Estimates show that 1 in 3 children today will grow up and eventually be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Blame a sedentary lifestyle and poor dietary choices as a society for the rapid rise in the disease.

Diabetics who've experienced futile results on other type 2 diabetes drugs or those who've suffered serious side effects while taking other drugs may be more likely to turn to Januvia. Previous leading drugs in the fight against type 2 diabetes - Avandia and Actos - have been plagued by negative press since they rose to the top of sales charts among other drugs designed for the same purpose. Avandia has all but been removed from the U.S. market due to a link to fatal heart attacks, strokes, and blood clots. In its place has been Actos, a drug that has hidden under the shadow of Avandia but with that drug now out of the way, has also been plagued by marks against its safety record. Actos has been linked most notably with life-threatening blood cancer.

Those turning to Januvia may very well be facing similar risks from a different set of life-threatening side effects. Though research on Januvia is limited currently, the drug has already been positively linked to serious side effects including low blood sugar levels, allergic reactions and anaphylaxis, swelling of the lips and tongue, acute pancreatitis, and death.

Januvia works by interfering with a diabetic's immune system and to date there has been no hard evidence to suggest that the drug has any immunosuppressive side effects. One ongoing study has concluded that people taking Januvia face double the risk of suffering a lung infection compared to those taking a placebo drug.

The report at also pointed to other unpublished (as of now) studies on the effects of Januvia, some effects that can far more severe consequences. Januvia has been associated with an increased rate of cancer among people taking it compared to other type 2 diabetes drugs and there have already been reports of people who've developed pancreatic, thyroid, colon, and prostate cancers, as well as melanoma skin cancer.

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