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Drugs popular for treating type 2 diabetes found not to cause pancreatic cancer

February 23, 2016 — 

The use of incretin-based drugs is not associated with an increased risk of pancreatic cancer in patients with type 2 diabetes, according to a study published in the latest issue of the British Medical Journal (BMJ). The research was conducted by the Canadian Network for Observational Drug Effect Studies (CNODES), which used the health records of almost 1 million patients with types 2 diabetes.  The study was done by researchers at the University of Manitoba’s Manitoba Centre for Health Policy and their colleagues at McGill University and across the CNODES member sites.

Incretin-based drugs are widely used in the treatment of type 2 diabetes, but there have been concerns that their use may stimulate pancreatic duct cells in a way that might lead to pancreatic cancer. However, in this, the largest study conducted to date, the researchers found no association between these drugs and pancreatic cancer.

“Given the concerns which have been raised about incretin-based drugs, it is reassuring that they do not appear to be associated with an increased risk of pancreatic cancer in patients with type 2 diabetes,” says Dan Chateau, research scientist at the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy.

To conduct the study, CNODES researchers from across Canada examined health records of patients in Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom. As is its mandate, the network has the ability to analyze a large amount of anonymous patient data to assess questions of drug safety more reliably than would otherwise be possible in smaller trials or epidemiological studies.

“Our study provides some reassurance that the use of incretin-based drugs is not associated with an increased risk of pancreatic cancer,” said the study’s first author Laurent Azoulay, associate professor of oncology at McGill University. “However, because pancreatic cancer develops over many years, it will be necessary to re-assess this association in the future.”

According to Pierre Ernst, senior author on this study and professor of medicine at McGill University, this type of study shows the importance of being able to access health data collected for administrative purposes while assuring that individual patients cannot be identified.

CNODES is part of the Drug Safety and Effectiveness Network (DSEN), which is funded by Health Canada, and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR)


Research at the University of Manitoba is partially supported by funding from the Government of Canada Research Support Fund.

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