Byetta and Pancreatic Cancer
Some researchers have found a possible link between drugs such as Byetta (exenatide) and pancreatic cancer. On March 14, 2013, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a notice saying it was reviewing a study by University of California, Los Angeles, scientists who found precancerous cells in the pancreases of deceased diabetic patients who had taken these drugs, known as incretin mimetics.
Dr. Peter Butler, the leading research scientist for the project said that there is some "concern that there may be a link, but we haven't confirmed it." Butler is the director of the Larry L. Hillblom Islet Research Center at UCLA.
Incretin mimetic drugs mimic the action of some of the body's natural hormones. The drugs work to stimulate the body to release insulin during and after a meal. They are taken by type 2 diabetics who use them along with proper diet and exercise to treat their disease.
The FDA said it was not yet drawing any conclusions about a link between these medications and pancreatic cancer, but wanted others to know it was reviewing the work by the scientists. The agency said it intended to conduct further studies about the possible toxicity to the pancreas by these types of drugs.
It is known that Byetta can cause pancreatitis in some diabetic patients, a condition that may be severe and sometimes lead to death. Some believe that pancreatitis may be a precursor to pancreatic cancer in some patients.
Pancreatic cancer is among the deadliest human cancers. It is the fourth leading cause of cancer-related death in men and women in the U.S. The National Cancer Institute estimates that 45,220 people will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2013 and the disease will cause 38,460 deaths.
Based on patients who died in 2006 to 2010 in the U.S., the age-adjusted death rate for pancreatic cancer was 10.9 per 100,000 persons per year. According to the National Cancer Institute's SEER (Surveillance Epidemiology and End Results) data, the overall five-year relative survival for 2003 to 2009 in 18 geographic areas was 6.0 percent. Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of pancreatic cancer.
Signs and Symptoms of Pancreatic Cancer
The pancreas is an oblong flat gland located behind the stomach, small intestine, liver, gallbladder, spleen and bile ducts. Because it is so deep within the body and the disease shows few to no signs early on, it is difficult to detect in its initial stages and usually is not diagnosed until it is at an advanced stage. A pancreatic tumor can grow for a long time before it causes any symptoms.
Its signs, if they do occur, are like many of those in other diseases. In more than 80 percent of patients with pancreatic cancer, the disease has already metastasized (spread beyond the pancreas) by the time it is diagnosed.
The main symptoms of pancreatic cancer include:
- Pain in the middle or upper part of the abdomen that may also spread to the back
- Jaundice, which is yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes
- Unexplained weight loss
- Lack of an appetite
When the disease is suspected, the following exams and diagnostic tests are performed to confirm its presence:
- Physical exam and patient history
- Blood tests
- Search for tumor markers in blood or urine
- MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)
- CT scan (computed tomography scan)
- PET scan (positron emission tomography)
- Abdominal ultrasound
- Endoscopic ultrasound
- ERCP (endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography) this test examines the ducts that carry bile from the liver to the gallbladder and from the gallbladder to the small intestine to see if the ducts are narrowed or blocked
- PTC (percutaneous transhepatic cholangiography) this is an x-ray procedure using dye to examine the liver and bile ducts
- Laparoscopy (this involves making a small cut into the abdomen and inserting a small lighted tube through it to view the inside of the abdomen)
Treatment of Pancreatic Cancer
Pancreatic cancer is treated surgically if it has not yet spread. In addition to various types of surgery, that depend upon the stage of the disease and where it occurs, other treatments for pancreatic cancer include:
- Radiation therapy
- Combination of radiation and chemotherapy
- Special treatments for pain: As the tumor grows, it can press upon other tissues and nerves. When medicine to relieve the pain is not enough, treatment to relieve pain in the abdomen may involve surgery to block nerves or injections of pain killing drugs into areas surrounding the nerves. Radiation therapy can also be used to treat pain by shrinking the tumor.
New treatments for pancreatic cancer are being tested in clinical trials. Patients interested in participating in clinical trials should go to cancer.gov/clinicaltrials/search/treatment-trial-guide to see the ten-step guide on how to take part in a study.
Help for Byetta Cancer Patients
Individuals that are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and who have a history of taking the Type 2 diabetes medication Byetta may be eligible for financial compensation. Our Byetta lawyers are currently investigating possible lawsuits involving Byetta and cancer of the pancreas and thyroid. To find out if you or someone you love is eligible to file a claim, please contact us today.