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Januvia & Other Diabetes Drugs Linked to Pancreatitis, Cancer

By Robert J. Boumis


Januvai pancreas side effectsDiabetics depend on their medication to manage their chronic, life-threatening illness. But a group of diabetes medicines, including Januvia, Byetta, and Bydureon, have been linked with an increased risk of pancreatitis.

Januvia is the trade name of Sitagliptin, a medicine taken orally to manage diabetes. Byetta, Bydureon are different preparations of Exenatide, another diabetes drug intended for injection. They are manufactured by Merck and Company and Bristol-Myers, respectively.

These drugs are specifically approved to treat type II or adult onset diabetes. In type II diabetes, the patient has difficulty metabolizing sugar, resulting in a host of health problems. Many patients need medication. However, using these diabetes drugs has been linked to an increased risk of pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas) and pre-cancerous changes to cells in the pancreas, and even pancreatic cancer.

Studies Find Increased Risk of Pancreatitis, Cancer

A study in JAMA Internal Medicine found that patients who took these drugs had double the risk of developing acute pancreatitis compared to control subjects. In pancreatitis, the pancreas, a flat-shaped gland near the stomach, becomes inflamed. Pancreatitis can vary from very mild, short-term cased to more serious, chronic disease. The most acute cases have a mortality rate of two to nine percent.

Some of the symptoms of pancreatitis include:

  • Jaundice (yellow skin)
  • Sharp pain in the upper part of the abdomen
  • Oily stools
  • Vomiting
  • Increased heart rate
  • Tender, swollen abdomen

This is not a compressive list.

Additionally, chronic pancreatitis can increase a patient’s risk of pancreatic cancer. Some patients have alleged that they developed pancreatic cancer after taking these diabetes drugs. Unfortunately, pancreatic cancer tends to remain asymptomatic until the cancer has reached an advanced stage. Since there are no pain receptors in the pancreas, patients tend to not feel anything until the cancer has already begun to spread beyond the pancreas.

While often asymptomatic, some patients with pancreatic cancer report:

  • Jaundice
  • Weight loss
  • Pale-colored stools
  • Malaise (general lack of energy)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Bloating
  • Dull abdominal pain as the cancer spreads

In addition to pancreatic cancer, Byetta and Januvia may also be linked in an increased risk of thyroid cancer.

FDA Issues Warnings

In 2007, the U.S. Federal Food and Drug Administration issued a warning after receiving a large number of complaints from type II diabetes drug users. Their initial warning regarded the increased risk of damage to the pancreas, including an elevated risk of serious, chronic pancreatitis. In 2009, the FDA revised the warning to include concerns related to pancreatic and thyroid cancers.

While Bristol-Myers has acknowledged the link between their drugs, Byetta and Bydureon, and an increased risk of serious side effects, they take the position that the benefits of their drug outweigh the risks to patients. Meanwhile, Merck denies the link between their drug Januvia and an increased risk of pancreatitis and cancer, despite mounting evidence.

If you, or someone you love has suffered from pancreatitis, pancreatic cancer, thyroid cancer, or other damage to the pancreas after taking Januvia, Byetta, or Bydureon, you have rights. Please visit the Type 2 Diabetes Drugs Januvia, Byetta Class Action Lawsuit Investigation. Here, you can submit your information. A lawyer who specializes in this type of legal action will review your case and help you to decide on the next steps to take.

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Updated April 16th, 2013


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