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A class of weight loss drugs — including Wegovy, Ozempic and Mounjaro — may protect against 10 out of 13 obesity-associated cancers in people with type 2 diabetes, according to new research.

A study published in the journal JAMA Network Open found that people with type 2 diabetes who were being treated with a class of GLP-1 drugs were significantly less likely to be diagnosed with 10 of the 13 obesity-associated cancers than those who were taking insulin. Originally prescribed to treat diabetes, the drugs known as GLP-1 receptor agonists work by increasing stimulation of these receptors in the brain that are responsible for the feeling of fullness, leading to decreased calorie intake and in turn weight loss.

Researchers found the risk was cut by more than half for gallbladder cancer, meningioma, pancreatic cancer and hepatocellular carcinoma. It was also significantly reduced for ovarian cancer, colorectal cancer, multiple myeloma, esophageal cancer, endometrial cancer and kidney cancer.

The study notes that GLP-1 treatment was not associated with a reduced risk of post-menopausal breast cancer, which is the most common type of cancer associated with obesity. It also did not reduce the risk of stomach or thyroid cancers.

Monica Avila, MD, a gynecologic oncologist in the Gynecologic Oncology Department at Moffitt Cancer Center, believes that not only can they prevent cancer, they can even be used to treat it.

Monica Avila, MD

Monica Avila, MD

“Everyone is obsessed with weight loss drugs these days,” Avila said. “What happens when these patients lose all the weight? Does it help the pre-cancer or cancer go away? Does it help keep it away?”

Obesity is the biggest risk factor for women developing uterine cancer, which begins in the lining of the uterus, called the endometrium. The uterus is a hollow organ in the pelvis where fetal development occurs during pregnancy.

Excess body fat can lead to higher levels of estrogen in the body. Estrogen is a hormone that is produced mainly in the ovaries and plays a key role in the menstrual cycle and the growth of the endometrium.

Higher levels of estrogen, especially in women who are not taking estrogen-lowering medications like some forms of birth control, can stimulate the cells of the endometrium to divide more rapidly, which increases the risk of mutations that can lead to cancer.

The standard of treatment for people whose disease is confined to the endometrium is to implant an intrauterine device. According to Avila, 80% to 90% of patients respond well to the device but typically see their disease revert back to either pre-cancer or cancer within six months.

Before referrals for weight loss medications were an option, Avila says diet and exercise plans were recommended for people diagnosed with uterine cancer. Unfortunately, the results typically weren’t sustainable.

“Most of the time we didn’t see any big changes,” Avila said. “It’s really hard to get motivated when the diagnoses may mean you lose your uterus or lose your fertility.”

The hope now is that doctors can turn these drugs once intended to treat diabetes to potentially prevent the recurrence of cancer but also prevent the manifestation of cancer.

“It begs the question, could it work as a complete primary preventive strategy?” Avila said. “Can we intervene with weight loss treatment before anything forms?”