Our firm is investigating potential lawsuits on behalf of patients who suffered from pancreatitis, pancreatic cancer or thyroid cancer related to the use of glucagon-like peptide-1-based therapies such as Byetta (exenatide). This medication is used to treat Type 2 diabetes, which occurs when there is not enough insulin to break down sugar in the body. Glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) is a gut hormone that helps secrete insulin.
Byetta is a GLP-1 agonist, meaning that it tries to help increase the activity of the hormone. Research has linked glucagon-like peptide -1-based therapies such as this to an increased risk of pancreatitis, pancreatic cancer and thyroid cancer.
In 2011, Gastroenterology journal published a study definitively linking pancreatitis, pancreatic cancer and thyroid cancer to GLP-1 based therapies. The study, conducted by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) found a higher incidence of pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer associated with Byetta compared with other therapies. Furthermore, researchers also found a significantly higher rate of thyroid cancer linked to the use of Byetta.
Byetta and Pancreatitis
Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas, the organ responsible for secreting digestive enzymes. It is also involved in regulating blood sugar because it releases the hormones insulin and glucagon. Pancreatitis occurs when the digestive enzymes become active while still inside the pancreas (instead of the small intestine). This condition, which can occur acutely or develop as chronic condition, can cause damage to the pancreas. According to WebMD, signs of acute pancreatitis include:
- Upper abdominal pain that may radiate to the back
- Swollen and tender abdomen
- Increased heart rate
Chronic pancreatitis causes many of the same symptoms, but may also lead to weight loss. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued two warnings concerning Byetta and pancreatitis, once in 2007 and again in 2008, following reports of Byetta-related deaths. According to the Gastroenterology study, pancreatitis was six times more common among patients who took Byetta compared to those who took an alternative type 2 diabetes therapy.
Byetta and Pancreatic Cancer
Pancreatic cancer, where cancer develops in the tissues of the pancreas, is a usually rapidly spreading cancer that is rarely detected in the early stages. Unfortunately, the prognosis for this condition is often poor. According to MayoClinic, pancreatitis and diabetes are both risk factors for developing pancreatic cancer. Signs of pancreatic cancer often to do not appear until the advanced stages, they include:
- Upper abdominal pain, possibly radiates to the back
- Loss of appetite, weight loss
- Blood clots
According to the clinical researchers at UCLA, pancreatic cancer was more commonly reported among patients taking Byetta. Compared to other type 2 diabetes drugs, patients taking Byetta had a 2.9-fold increased rate of pancreatic cancer.
Byetta and Thyroid Cancer
The thyroid is a gland that is releases hormones responsible for regulating heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature and weight. Although most cases of thyroid cancer can be cured with proper treatment, it has a tendency to come back, even if the thyroid has been removed. Signs of thyroid cancer include:
- A lump on the skin of your neck
- Changes in voice, voice becomes more hoarse
- Difficulty swallowing
- Neck and throat pain
- Swollen lymph nodes
According to the authors of the Gastroenterology study, there is a significantly higher rate of thyroid cancer among patients who take Byetta.