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The recall of a pair of weight loss drugs could have consumers worried about cancer, but experts say those risks appear to be small.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) this month requested that the makers of Belviq and Belviq XR voluntarily withdraw the products from U.S. shelves after finding evidence they raised the risk of lung, colon and pancreatic cancers.
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"I don't think people should be worried. Belviq was pulled off as a precaution,” says Dan Azagury, chief of bariatric surgery at Stanford Health Care, who notes that other recalled weight loss drugs, such as fen-phen in 1997, had much more evident links to very serious complications. Anyone who has a prescription for Belviq, however, should stop taking the drug immediately, doctors say.
The FDA says the cancer link was less than certain, and cancer has not been a cause of concern with weight loss drugs in the past, experts say. Pulling the drug from shelves may be possible partly because recalls of weight loss drugs face relatively little resistance.
“It is far easier and more tolerable to pull drugs off the market to treat obesity than cancer,” at least in part because they don't show dramatic results and don't make a lot of money, says Lee M. Kaplan, director of the Obesity, Metabolism and Nutrition Institute at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
Previous weight loss drugs have been pulled from the market for causing cardiac problems related to how they speed up metabolism or increase heart rate. Some have also caused problems with heart valves.
Diet drugs you can still take — and how they work
The recall of Belviq leaves four weight management drugs approved by the FDA: Qsymia (phentermine/topiramate), Contrave (bupropion/naltrexone), Saxenda (liraglutide) and orlistat (Xenical).