GLP-1 drugs like Ozempic and Wegovy may lower the risk of certain obesity-related cancers, a recent study suggests.

The study, published last week in JAMA Network Open and conducted by researchers at the Case Western University School of Medicine, examined some 1.6 million patients with type 2 diabetes.

Patients who took GLP-1 drugs as opposed to insulin saw a significant reduction in 10 of 13 obesity-related cancers — including esophageal, colorectal, endometrial, gallbladder, liver, ovarian, kidney and pancreatic cancer.

The results provide preliminary evidence of the potential benefit of GLP-1s for cancer prevention among high-risk patients, the authors concluded.

While the results are promising, the researchers noted that the study has limitations. 

For one, it was a retrospective observational study that relied on electronic health records from March 2005 to November 2018, meaning any GLP-1 drugs that were approved recently weren’t included. The study also didn’t specify which GLP-1 drugs it examined.

However, this adds to the growing body of research around the benefits of GLP-1 drugs that extend beyond treating diabetes and contributing to weight loss. The drugs have already shown promise in reducing the risk of other obesity-related conditions, like heart disease and sleep apnea.

In November 2023, Novo Nordisk unveiled research that showed a once-weekly 2.4 mg version of Wegovy reduced the risk of major adverse cardiovascular events (MACE) by 20%. 

That study focused on patients who had heart disease and were overweight or obese, but who didn’t have diabetes.

Since then, the Food and Drug Administration approved a label expansion for Wegovy to include cardiovascular events among patients with heart disease.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services also recently allowed Medicare Part D plans to begin covering GLP-1 drugs for heart disease.

Later this spring, Novo Nordisk also released data showing that Ozempic reduced the risk of death in diabetes patients with chronic kidney disease.

Finally, Eli Lilly has joined Novo in investigating label expansions for its GLP-1 drugs Mounjaro and Zepbound, releasing research in April that showed the drugs lowered the risk of sleep apnea compared to placebo.

“I think we’re at the tip of the iceberg when it comes to understanding the benefits of the GLP-1 receptor agonists,” Jennie Stanford, an obesity medicine physician at InteliHealth, told Healthline. “As we learn more and more about what they’re able to do, I think we’ll be able to see possibilities for using them in dementia, in obesity-associated cancers and other medical problems that are linked back to the same underlying mechanism.”

The authors of the most recent study in cancer emphasized the need for more research in the area, noting the results support further preclinical and clinical studies for the prevention of certain obesity-associated cancers.

To read a July 2024 article about Lilly’s obesity drug topping Novo’s GLP-1s in a head-to-head weight loss study, click here.