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Does Taking Belviq to Lose Weight Increase Your Risk for Cancer?

The FDA has just asked the maker of lorcaserin (Belviq) to lose weight to withdraw it due to an increased risk of a cancer diagnosis.

The Food and Drug Administration issued an alert in January 2020 about the weight loss medication lorcaserin. On February 13, it asked the maker to withdraw the drug, sold under the brand name Belviq. As a result, people may be wondering if it is safe to take Belviq to lose weight. The FDA recommends that anyone who has been taking it should stop immediately and get rid of their pills. The best way to do so is to surrender them to a pharmacy equipped to take drugs back. 

Do People Who Take Belviq to Lose Weight Have a Higher Risk of Cancer?

When the FDA approved lorcaserin in 2012, it required the manufacturer Eisai to conduct a safety study. Now, the results have been made public. About 12,000 people participated in this placebo-controlled study over five years. The researchers were focusing on the possibility that the drug might increase the risk for heart disease. To their surprise, they unexpectedly found more people taking Belviq to lose weight came down with cancer than those on placebo.

The FDA noted in January:

“Our evaluation of this potential signal is ongoing, and at this time it is uncertain if lorcaserin increases the risk of cancer.”

The February announcement reads:

“FDA has requested that the manufacturer of Belviq, Belviq XR (lorcaserin) voluntarily withdraw the weight-loss drug from the U.S. market because a safety clinical trial shows an increased occurrence of cancer. The drug manufacturer, Eisai Inc,. has submitted a request to voluntarily withdraw the drug.”

Doctors will want to learn more about these potential risks, as they are going beyond prescribing Belviq to lose weight. According to new information, lorcaserin might also be helpful for people fighting addiction to nicotine or cocaine (Pharmacology & Therapeutics, Oct. 16, 2019). If the drug will be used more broadly, prescribers will want to be certain they are not endangering their patients.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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