Byetta: Thyroid and Pancreatic Cancer

New medical studies show that users of Byetta have an increased risk of developing thyroid cancer and pancreatic cancer. Byetta has had problems in the past—a few years ago it had been linked with pancreatitis and kidney problems. If you are a lawyer with a client with cancer who was on Byetta or are a victim yourself, this blog post lays out the issue in these cases and what you can expect.

What is Byetta?

Byetta is an injectable drug used to treat patients with type-2 diabetes mellitus. Used alone or in concert with other diabetes control drugs, it is intended to help regulate the body’s blood sugar. It comes in a blue and yellow pen that serves as a syringe. The pen is prefilled and measured, and patients do not require different doses based on size, weight, or meal size. Byetta has been on the market since 2005. In 2010 the drug earned its manufacturers, Amylin Pharmaceuticals and Eli Lilly & Co., over $550 million in sales.

Byetta Pancreatic Cancer

Medical studies have shown that Byetta users have a higher risk of developing pancreatitis—inflammation of the pancreas. The pancreas is a gland in the abdomen that makes hormones to regulate blood sugar. It also assists in the digestion of food. Symptoms of pancreatitis sometimes include abdominal pain, nausea, fever, vomiting, rapid heartbeat, and a swollen abdomen. Pancreatitis, in turn, increases the risks of pancreatic cancer.

The link between pancreatic cancer and Byetta has been further demonstrated by a July 2011 UCLA study. It showed that patients who use Byetta are three times as likely to develop pancreatic cancer (see Gastroenterology journal). The manufacturers are disputing the study.

Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of death for men and women, and is one of the most terrible types of cancer—it typically grows much faster than many other types of cancer, and it is much harder to diagnose in the early stages. There are about 45,000 new diagnoses per year, and about 38,000 pancreatic cancer deaths every year in the United States.

Byetta Thyroid Cancer

In 2010, an FDA advisory panel cautioned that a drug very similar to Byetta causes thyroid tumors in laboratory animals (click here for the report). There, the FDA examined the drug Victoza, which belongs in the same class as Byetta. Both are GLP-1 analogs. Byetta’s manufacturers do not have any evidence to rule out an association with thyroid cancer.

The thyroid is an endocrine gland in the neck that produces hormones and regulates a body’s metabolism and growth. Symptoms of thyroid cancer include coughing, difficulty swallowing, swelling of the neck, hoarseness, and a lump in the thyroid.
We believe that the drugs are so similar that a study of one is equivalent to a study of the other. Of course, specific studies will reveal over time the level of similarity between the drugs, and the exact degree of increased thyroid cancer risk to Byetta patients.

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Over 24 million people in the United States have diabetes, and Byetta is one of the best-selling diabetes drugs on the market. However, many people don’t realize the potential medical problems associated with Byetta. Patients who know about the risks of thyroid cancer and pancreatic cancer would likely choose a different drug to help regulate their diabetes.

If you have used Byetta and have been diagnosed with pancreas cancer, thyroid cancer, kidney problems, or pancreatitis, contact our product liability lawyers at 1.800.553.8082, or send us a confidential, no-obligation e-mail.

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