Medical Research

published : 2023-09-29

Breast Cancer Drug Linked to Potentially Serious Side Effect

New Research Reveals Elevated Blood Sugar Levels in Some Patients

A person undergoing breast cancer treatment, determined and hopeful, looking at a bottle of alpelisib medication in their hand. (Taken with Canon EOS R)

A groundbreaking study from the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center has uncovered a major side effect of the widely prescribed oral medication alpelisib, commonly used to treat breast cancer. The research, published in the esteemed peer-reviewed journal CANCER, reveals that the drug has been found to cause elevated blood sugar rates, known as hyperglycemia, in a significant number of patients.

The study, which involved 147 patients treated with alpelisib, discovered that a staggering 80.3% of them experienced hyperglycemia. Furthermore, the study revealed that 40.2% of these cases were classified as serious hyperglycemia. The alarming findings shed light on a concerning risk associated with the drug's usage.

Dr. Sherry Shen, lead researcher at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, explained the study's objective: to investigate the frequency of hyperglycemia occurring in patients taking alpelisib outside of clinical trials and to identify the risk factors associated with this condition. The results highlighted that individuals with a pre-existing hemoglobin A1c level in the pre-diabetes or diabetes range had a higher susceptibility to developing hyperglycemia while on the medication.

An oncologist and a patient engaged in a discussion about the potential side effects of breast cancer medication. (Taken with Nikon D850)

Despite these revelations, medical experts emphasize that the side effects of alpelisib can generally be managed and treated. Dr. Shen reassured patients and healthcare professionals that severely high blood sugar levels are infrequent and can be controlled with medications like insulin. Monitoring and support from oncologists and medical teams play a crucial role in mitigating any harmful effects of the drug.

In milder cases, continuous glucose monitors and insulin pumps can effectively manage high blood sugar levels. Moreover, ongoing clinical trials are being conducted to explore dietary and pharmacologic anti-hyperglycemia strategies for alpelisib patients.

Dr. Snehal Smart, a medical doctor and researcher at the Mesothelioma Center in Orlando, Florida, emphasized the significant benefits that alpelisib offers to breast cancer patients. The drug can effectively impede the spread of cancer cells and alleviate symptoms. However, it is crucial for both patients and healthcare providers to be aware of the potential side effects and take necessary precautions.

A medical researcher analyzing data on a computer screen, seeking insights into the relationship between alpelisib and hyperglycemia. (Taken with Sony A7 III)

The study's findings call for increased vigilance and proactive measures by oncologists in preventing alpelisib-associated hyperglycemia. Prior testing and optimization of patients' metabolic health may help minimize the risk. It is essential for healthcare professionals to have a comprehensive understanding of the potential risks and be equipped with alternative treatment options when necessary.

While this study highlights an important concern, it does not warrant a reversal of the drug's approval due to the alternative options available and the potential benefits to breast cancer patients. Moving forward, the medical community must remain diligent in monitoring and managing the impact of alpelisib on blood sugar levels, ensuring the best possible outcomes for patients.