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Following the nationwide recall issued last month due to concerns about a link between the diet pill Belviq and cancer, a new study looks at the benefits and risks associated with a number of current and former weight loss drugs on the market.
Korean researchers published a review in The World Journal of Men’s Health on March 9, which looks at the benefit-risk profile of Belviq, Xenical, Alli, Qysmia, Contrave, and Saxenda. The researchers found most of the drugs demonstrated good tolerability and safety for patients while helping with weight loss, but urged doctors to regularly evaluate the safety and effectiveness for each patient on a regular basis.
The study specifically noted that the Belviq recall has renewed questions about weight loss drug safety, as many critics raised concerns about the potential side effects before the medication was approved, and it is the latest in a number of diet drugs that have been pulled from the market due to life-threatening health risks.
“Increasing evidence has shown that behavior-based interventions with one of these medications can result in greater weight loss than that elicited by usual care conditions,” the researchers said. “However, they have a high cost and may cause adverse outcomes depending on the individual.”
Researchers looked at several factors for each drug, including the mechanism of action, the side effects and the clinical efficacy.
The study concluded that weight loss drug treatment should be used only as part of a comprehensive weight loss strategy for patients with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 or higher who have obesity-related comorbidity, such as sleep apnea or dyslipidemia. They called for doctors to evaluate patients after the first three months of drug use, and warned they cannot be used as a “panacea” for the treatment of obesity.
Belviq Cancer Warning
Belviq and Belviq XR (lorcaserin) were first approved by the FDA in 2012, as a prescription weight loss drug for adults who are obese or who have weight related medical problems that prohibit them from losing weight through traditional diet and exercise. The active ingredients of the pill are intended to trigger chemical signals that make people want to eat less.
The diet drugs were manufactured by Japanese drugmaker Eisai Co., who began selling the medication in the U.S. in 2013. The medication quickly became a popular choice among prescribing doctors, with more than 600,000 prescriptions filled in 2015 alone, with sales reaching an estimated $50 million.
Last month, the FDA announced that it was withdrawing approval for the weight loss drug after a post-marketing study conducted by the diet pill manufacturer identified an increased incidence of pancreatic cancer, colorectal cancer and lung cancer among users.
Almost immediately after the FDA decision, the drug maker removed Belviq from the market, and former users have been slowly learning that the medication they took for weight loss may expose them to an increased risk of cancer.
A number of lawyers are already evaluating potential Belviq class action lawsuits, and claims are expected to seek reimbursements for the premium price paid by users of the recalled diet drug, as well as funding for medical monitoring that users may require to detect cancer that may surface months or even years after last exposure.