A drug used to treat type 2 diabetes and support weight loss may also help to reduce the risk of colorectal cancer (CRC), a new study has found.

Researchers set out to test their theory that GLP-1 RAs could cut the risk of this type of cancer, by comparing it to other anti-diabetic drugs.

The study’s co-lead researcher Nathan Berger, from Case Western Reserve School of Medicine in Ohio, said: “Our results clearly demonstrate that GLP-1 RAs are significantly more effective than popular anti-diabetic drugs, such as metformin or insulin, at preventing the development of CRC.”

The research team analysed data from more than 1.2 million people who had been treated with anti-diabetic medication from 2005 to 2019, comparing the effects on the incidence of CRC.

Their key findings showed that people treated with GLP-1 RAs had a 44% reduction in incidence of CRC.

There were 167 cases of CRC in 22,572 people treated with insulin, compared to 94 cases of CRC in the same number of people treated with GLP-1 RAs.

A separate analysis showed a 25% reduction in CRC in 18,518 people treated with GLP-1 RAs compared to the same number of people who received metformin.

Co-lead researcher Rong Xu, a professor at the School of Medicine, said: “To our knowledge, this is the first indication this popular weight-loss and anti-diabetic class of drugs reduces incidence of CRC, relative to other anti-diabetic agents.”

Berger added: “The research is critically important for reducing incidence of CRC in patients with diabetes, with or without overweight and obesity.”

As well as helping with weight management, GLP-1 RAs can improve insulin sensitivity and lower blood sugar levels.

Other benefits include the reduction of major cardiovascular conditions.

These protective factors are seen in people with or without obesity or overweight.

Figures show that almost three-quarters of people aged 20 or older have obesity or overweight in America, with obesity affecting around 20% of children and teenagers.

The condition is linked to many other serious health conditions.

CRC is the second-leading cause of cancer deaths, with around 52,550 people dying from this type of cancer each year.

Read the study in full in JAMA Oncology.

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