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A recent study published in BMJ has found that popular diabetes and weight loss drugs, known as GLP-1 medications, such as Ozempic and Wegovy, do not substantially increase the risk of developing thyroid cancer. These medications work by suppressing the appetite, lowering blood sugar, and managing obesity and type 2 diabetes. The research, which involved analyzing health data from over 145,000 patients across Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, compared the incidence of thyroid cancer in patients taking GLP-1 drugs to those taking other types of diabetes medication.

After following the participants for an average of four years, the study found that there was a low incidence rate of thyroid cancer in both the group taking GLP-1 drugs and the group taking DPP4 inhibitors, another type of diabetes drug. The researchers concluded that the use of GLP-1 drugs was not associated with a significantly increased risk of developing thyroid cancer, although they could not completely rule out a small increase in risk. A secondary analysis comparing GLP-1 drugs to another form of diabetes medication called SGLT2 inhibitors showed consistent results with the initial comparison.

Lead study author Björn Pasternak, from the Department of Medicine at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, stated that the study provides strong support that GLP-1 analogues are not associated with an increased risk of thyroid cancer. However, previous research has shown conflicting results, with some studies suggesting that GLP-1 drugs may increase the risk of thyroid cancer in humans. Mice and rats given GLP-1 drugs have shown higher incidence rates of developing thyroid C-cell tumors, and there have been reports of GLP-1-related thyroid cancer cases to the FDA, including deaths.

Despite these findings, the makers of GLP-1 drugs, Novo Nordisk, list thyroid cancer as a potential side effect of their medications and caution against use if there is a family history of medullary thyroid carcinoma. The European Medicines Agency has reviewed recent research and concluded that available evidence does not support a causal link between GLP-1 drugs and thyroid cancer, although they have raised safety signals and investigated the potential association. Additional studies have found no increased risk of thyroid cancer in patients taking GLP-1 agonists, including a research review examining the use of semaglutide specifically.

Overall, the latest study published in BMJ adds to the ongoing debate surrounding the potential link between GLP-1 medications and thyroid cancer. While some research suggests an increased risk, the findings of this study indicate that the use of GLP-1 drugs is not significantly associated with an elevated risk of developing thyroid cancer. However, further research is needed to fully understand the potential risks and benefits of these medications for patients with obesity and type 2 diabetes.

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