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Victoza (liraglutide) is a popular injection medication used to treat Type-2 Diabetes. Unfortunately, it has been linked to medullary thyroid cancer and papillary thyroid cancer.

Overview

Victoza (liraglutide) is a medication that is used to help adults with Type-2 diabetes mellitus control their blood sugar (glucose) levels. Victoza is a once-daily injection medication that mimics the hormone GLP-1, which stimulates the pancreas to secrete extra insulin. People with Type-2 diabetes have chronic insulin resistance, which causes chronic problems with high blood sugar. Victoza is sold by the pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk. It was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in January 2010, against the judgment of several FDA scientists.

Victoza and Thyroid Cancer

There are already 11 classes of drugs available to treat diabetes. These drugs have a much longer history of use, and most of them have not been linked to an increased risk of thyroid cancer. Victoza, however, has only been on the U.S. market for a couple years, but it has already been linked to severe side effects, including thyroid cancer, acute pancreatitis, renal failure, and more. The public advocacy group Public Citizen is petitioning the FDA to ban Victoza from the U.S. immediately.

In a petition sent to the FDA, Public Citizen cited these statistics:

In patients taking Victoza in pre-approval studies, papillary thyroid cancer was increased 3-fold and thyroid C-cell hyperplasia (increased proliferation of such cells) was increased 2.4-fold, compared to patients taking other drugs for diabetes.

Victoza has been linked to the following types of thyroid cancer:

  • Papillary thyroid cancer: In pre-clinical studies, 6 patients who were using Victoza developed papillary thyroid cancer, versus 1 patient who was taking another diabetes drug. Though the sample size was too small to determine whether Victoza causes papillary thyroid cancer, this study is an early warning sign. Papillary thyroid cancer is the most common type of thyroid cancer, but fortunately, it is also the least dangerous because it is slow-growing.
  • Medullary thyroid cancer: In animal studies, Victoza administered to rodents caused medullary thyroid cancer. The rodents were administered doses comparable to human doses. This is a warning sign that Victoza could potentially increase the risk of medullary thyroid cancer in humans.

It is unknown whether Victoza causes thyroid cancer in humans. Cancers are relatively rare diseases, and it can take years before exposure to a toxin causes cancer. The pre-approval studies of Victoza were not long enough or large enough to conclusively determine whether Victoza causes thyroid cancer, which is one reason why the FDA is requiring Novo Nordisk to keep track of thyroid cancer cases in Victoza patients for the next 15 years.

What is Thyroid Cancer?

Thyroid cancer is a cancer of the thyroid gland. This butterfly-shaped gland is located on front of the neck, at the base, near the windpipe. It is part of the body’s endocrine system, and it is responsible for producing hormones that help regulate metabolism and other body functions. It is very rare for thyroid cancer to be aggressive. The types of thyroid cancer linked to Victoza are relatively slow-growing and they are usually diagnosed before they cause severe injury or death. Any type of cancer, however, can be extremely painful, stressful, expensive to treat, and cause debilitation or death.

Symptoms of Victoza Thyroid Cancer

Thyroid cancer often has no symptoms, which can delay diagnosis until the cancer spreads to other tissues. Usually, however, thyroid cancer presents noticeable symptoms (such as a painless lump in the neck) and is diagnosed before the cancer metastasizes.

When Victoza thyroid cancer does cause symptoms, these may include the following:

  • “Nodules” on the thyroid — these are usually benign, but they may be cancerous
  • Lumps on the neck
  • Coughing, wheezing
  • Swallowing is difficult or painful
  • Pain in the neck
  • Swollen, enlarged thyroid gland, neck, and/or lymph nodes
  • Hoarseness, changing voice