The weight loss treatments Belviq and Belviq XR were pulled from the U.S. market in February after a long-term study linked their use to an increased occurrence of cancer. The study, which involved 12,000 patients over five years, found a range of cancer types occurring more frequently among Belviq and Belviq XR users compared to nonusers, including pancreatic, colorectal and lung cancers.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommended users stop taking Belviq and Belviq XR immediately, but did not recommend that users undergo any special screenings. Nor did the agency inform users of their chances of getting cancer. Health care professionals were told to stop prescribing and dispensing the drug to patients but, again, did not recommend any additional screenings for patients. But the risks identified by the long-term study were enough to prompt the FDA into action.
The study showed that 7.7% of those who used Belviq developed cancer compared to 7.1% of nonusers. And while this may sound like a small difference, researchers found it to be statistically significant. According to the FDA, this accounts for one additional case of cancer among 470 Belviq users during the course of one year.
Early cancer concerns
When Belviq was first approved for marketing in the U.S. in June 2012, the FDA was cautious. Previous diet pills had caused worrisome enough health problems that they were pulled from the market, including the notorious drug cocktail Fen-phen, which was banned in 1997 after it was linked to deadly heart valve problems in up to a third of patients treated with the drug.
But there were also hints of cancer risks. In fact, one of the reasons the FDA rejected Belviq’s first bid for approval in 2009 was due to concerns about studies that showed laboratory mice exposed to Belviq’s active ingredient lorcaserin developed cancerous tumors. Those concerns stopped European drug regulators from giving Belviq the green light altogether.
But the FDA was eventually swayed when the drug was resubmitted for approval in 2012. The approval was contingent upon the drug company collecting safety data on users to check for heart attacks and strokes. When the study wrapped up in June 2018, no heart risks were found.
But under closer examination, the increased occurrence of cancer emerged as a worrisome sign. Unfortunately, no one knows at this time how great the risk is to Belviq users, whether the longer the usage or higher the dose translates to greater risk, or if people who have had cancer are at increased risk for recurrence.
If you or a loved one has taken Belviq and been diagnosed with cancer, we would like to talk with you. Roger Smith, Ryan Duplechin and Melissa Prickett, attorneys with Beasley Allen Law Firm, are currently investigating individual cases of pancreatic cancer, colorectal cancer and lung cancer in patients who have been treated with Belviq.