Weight-loss drug Belviq increases risk of cancer, FDA warns

The popular weight loss drug, called Belviq, also called Belviq XR (lorcaserin), has been found to increase the risk of developing cancer, warns the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The regulatory board is alerting the public that recent results from a clinical trial that aimed to assess the drug’s safety has shown a potentially heightened risk of cancer in those who are using the drug for weight loss management.

Health officials urged those who are taking the drug to talk to their doctors, even if the findings are still being evaluated. They encouraged an abundance of precaution in the intake of the said drug. For doctors, the FDA encourages them to consider if the benefits of taking the drug may exceed the potential risks before prescribing it to their patients, or if their current patients should continue in taking lorcaserin.

Lorcaserin is a prescription drug approved by the FDA in 2012, which aims to help patients lose weight, in combination with a low-calorie diet and regular exercise. Doctors recommend the drug to overweight and obese patients who have weight-related health conditions. The drug promotes weight loss by boosting feelings of satiety and fullness, so they consume less food.

It is available as Belviq, which is taken as a tablet twice a day, and Belviq XR, which is an extended-release once a day tablet.

Clinical trial results

When the FDA approved lorcaserin, they required the manufacturer of the drug, Eisai, Inc. to perform a clinical trial to determine the health risks linked to the drug, particularly heart-related problems. The trial showed that in about 12,000 participants in a study period of five years, the researchers found that more patients who were on lorcaserin developed and were diagnosed with cancer than those who were taking placebo.

Currently, the FDA is conducting further research and evaluation of the possible link between lorcaserin and cancer. Though the findings are still inconclusive, the regulatory body encourages doctors and patients to report side effects and potential complications in taking the drug.

“To help FDA track safety issues with medicines, we urge health care professionals and patients to report side effects involving lorcaserin or other medicines to the FDA MedWatch program, using the information in the “Contact FDA” box at the bottom of the page,” the FDA said in its announcement.

Obesity still a global health problem

Obesity is a global health problem, with over 650 million people with a body mass index (BMI) of more than 30 across the globe in 2016, while about 1.9 billion are overweight.

In the United States alone, 93.9 million US adults or about 39.8 percent of the population are obese, and the estimated annual cost of obesity was $147 billion in 2008, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Being overweight or obese are major risk factors for a multitude of lifestyle and chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, including heart disease, hypertension, and stroke, cancer, and diabetes.

Currently, treatments for obesity include weight loss drugs, bariatric surgery, special diets, regular physical exercise, changing habits, and weight-management programs.

People who are overweight or obese should begin a healthy eating plan by reducing the intake of calories and choosing healthier food options. They should also start regular physical activity of about 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week.

Health experts recommend losing about 5 to 10 percent of the body weight in the first six months of weight loss treatment. By losing weight, people can reduce the risk of having health problems linked to obesity and improve their current health status, and at the same time, improve their quality of life.

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