Obesity and diabetes are increasingly common, serious health conditions affecting millions worldwide. As a result, newer drugs like semaglutide (Ozempic) have emerged to help manage blood sugar and aid weight loss. But could these medications also carry risks?
Early animal studies on semaglutide hinted at a potential issue. Rodents treated with semaglutide had an increased occurrence of thyroid C-cell tumors. This raised concerns that semaglutide could potentially increase thyroid cancer risk in humans as well.
Understandably, this sparked fear for many patients already taking semaglutide or considering it as a treatment option. Could this popular diabetes and weight loss injection raise their chance of developing the serious health complication of the said type of cancer? Let’s look at the evidence.
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Before being approved for use in humans, all drugs undergo extensive preclinical animal testing. This helps determine effectiveness, optimal dosing, and identify any potential safety issues.
During the studies focused on this particular glucagon-like peptide receptor, it was found that when mice and rats were injected with semaglutide “at clinically relevant exposures”, it led to C-cell hyperplasia (overgrowth) and malignant C-cell carcinoma. In fact, the brand Wegovy has had that warning since 2017.
Naturally, this raised concerns that semaglutide could increase the risk of thyroid cancer in humans as well. However, the relevance to human thyroid safety was unclear.
Thankfully, it didn’t take long for succeeding studies to put most of those doubts to rest. For one, it was revealed that rodents like mice and rats have a much higher percentage of C-cells in their thyroid glands compared to humans as shown by the following table.
|Species||Rodent Thyroid||Human Thyroid|
Mice and rats have tons of C-cells that can be readily affected by GLP-1 receptor activation. Humans just don't have nearly that many C-cells since our thyroids contain mostly follicular cells instead.
So while rodent thyroids are packed with C-cells that drive tumor growth from GLP-1 drug effects, human thyroids have far fewer C-cells to be impacted. Our thyroid glands consist predominantly of follicular cells, with C-cells making up a tiny fraction in comparison.
So while concerning at first glance, the increased C-cell tumor risk seen in animal studies may not necessarily translate over to human patients treated with semaglutide. More research was needed to clarify if semaglutide posed a real risk for thyroid cancer in people, though.
Fortunately, newer research into semaglutide has only confirmed the lack of a causal link between the drug and thyroid cancer in human patients. Here’s a quick summary for your reference, coupled with a few notable findings in recent years.
While longer-term studies are still needed, current evidence provides reassurance for patients using semaglutide. This article will break down the concerns around semaglutide and thyroid cancer and what we know so far. We’ll also overview the said type of cancer itself - such as the different types, risk factors, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatments.
Semaglutide (brand names Ozempic and Rybelsus) is an injectable prescription medication used for chronic weight management and to improve blood sugar levels in adults with type 2 diabetes.
It belongs to a class of drugs called glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) receptor agonists. These drugs mimic the effects of GLP-1, a hormone produced in the body that stimulates the release of insulin when blood sugar rises after eating.
By activating GLP-1 receptors, semaglutide helps regulate blood sugar by:
In addition to semaglutide, other GLP-1 receptor agonists include exenatide (Byetta), liraglutide (Victoza), and dulaglutide (Trulicity).
Semaglutide comes in two forms. Ozempic is an injectable solution given once weekly, while Rybelsus is an oral tablet taken daily. Studies show semaglutide can lead to significant improvements in hemoglobin A1c (a measure of blood sugar control), along with weight loss of around 10-15% in people with obesity.
This makes semaglutide an appealing treatment option for many, but qualms about the alleged thyroid cancer risk have understandably raised concerns.
Around 52,890 new cases of thyroid cancer are expected to be diagnosed in the US in 2023. This represents about 3% of all new cancer cases. About 2,120 deaths from this cancer are expected in 2023; although, the death rate has remained stable over the past decades.
|Papillary carcinoma||Most common form (80% of cases)Usually grows slowlyOften curable|
|Follicular carcinoma||Second most commonSlightly more aggressive than papillary|
|Medullary carcinoma||Accounts for 3-5% of casesCan run in families|
|Anaplastic carcinoma||Rare but most aggressive typeHarder to treat|
If suspected, your doctor will likely order:
If tests confirm the presence of this cancer, the next step is determining the type, stage, and appropriate treatments.
If caught early while still localized, it is very treatable. The main therapies include:
Chemotherapy may also be used in some advanced, rapidly progressing cancers.
Talk to your oncologist about which treatments provide the best chance for long-term remission and cure based on your specific cancer type, stage, and individual factors.
The prognosis is closely linked to the stage at diagnosis:
So early detection and treatment are key. Most patients who receive timely care can go on to live healthy, active lives even after thyroid cancer. Blood tests and imaging should continue periodically to monitor for potential recurrence.
With papillary thyroid cancer, despite a high tendency to recur locally, long-term survival over 15-20 years remains very favorable in most cases.
There are no contraindications for taking semaglutide if you have a history of thyroid cancer. But it’s wise to discuss use with your endocrinologist first.
They may recommend more frequent monitoring of your thyroid blood work while on semaglutide. Report any new neck lumps, voice changes, or other suspicious symptoms promptly for evaluation.
With no evidence definitively linking semaglutide to increased cancer risk in humans, many doctors deem it reasonably safe in thyroid cancer survivors who may benefit from blood sugar and weight control.
Controlling obesity and diabetes provides overall health benefits that may outweigh low potential risks for those with medical supervision. But as with any medication, weigh the pros and cons carefully with your healthcare provider.
While current data is reassuring, more research on semaglutide's long-term safety profile is still warranted. Patients should stay on top of new studies that emerge by:
Drug risks can take time to fully characterize. Being an engaged, informed health advocate is key to making wise treatment choices.
If you are struggling with obesity or type 2 diabetes, semaglutide may be an option to consider under your doctor's supervision.
While rodent studies raised initial concerns, current research shows no increased risk of thyroid cancer in humans taking semaglutide. It remains one of the most effective medications for weight loss and blood sugar control.
However, it's important to stay closely monitored by your healthcare provider while on semaglutide, especially if you have any history of thyroid issues.
At Dr. V Medical Aesthetics, we offer semaglutide (Ozempic) injections for chronic weight management in adults with obesity or overweight with at least one weight-related condition. Contact us today to learn more and see if semaglutide is right for you.
Our experienced medical staff can evaluate your health history, describe potential side effects, and work with you to set realistic weight loss goals. We combine semaglutide with customized nutrition and exercise plans for optimal, lasting results. Don’t struggle with weight or blood sugar control alone - call us now to begin your transformation.
Dr. V Medical Aesthetics is ready to help you achieve your beauty goals. Contact us today to learn more about any of our services, and exactly what our team can do for you.