Sugar Fuels Tumor Growth, Says Major New Study
Katie Drummond Contributor
(Feb. 8) — Sugary soft drinks drastically increase the risk of developing pancreatic cancer, according to a long-term study of 60,000 people in Singapore.
A research team at the University of Minnesota followed thousands of men and women participating in the Singapore Chinese Health Study for 14 years. At the end of the study, published this month in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, the team found that those drank two or more soft drinks a week had an 87 percent higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer.
Dr. Mark Pereira, the study’s lead researcher, warns that the findings likely apply to the United States and other industrialized nations as well. “Singapore is a wealthy country with excellent health care,” he said. “Favorite pastimes are eating and shopping, so the findings should apply to other Western countries.”
Oddly enough, those who drank fruit juice, which can have as much sugar as soda, didn’t have the same cancer risk. Pereira suggests that soda drinkers might have poor health habits, which exacerbate their risk of illness. Of those studied in Singapore, individuals who drank soda were more likely to smoke and eat red meat — two lifestyle factors already linked to cancer.
The connection between sugar and pancreatic cancer makes sense: insulin, which helps the body digest sugar, is made in the pancreas. Researchers suspect that sugary soda interferes with the body’s insulin levels, which then contributes to cancerous cell growth in the pancreas.
Diabetes, another illness in which the body’s insulin production is compromised, is a known risk factor for pancreatic cancer. The onset of diabetes later in life can also be an early symptom.
Determining the cause of pancreatic cancer could save thousands of lives a year: 230,000 people are diagnosed worldwide each year, and the American Cancer Society estimates that only 5 percent survive for five years.
But the study isn’t a definitive answer. Out of the 60,000 individuals studied, 140 developed pancreatic cancer. Of those, 18 cases occurred in patients who’d consumed large quantities of soda, 12 occurred in those who drank soda occasionally, and 110 occurred in those who never consumed the sugary beverages.
In their analysis, the researchers acknowledge that the small numbers limit the power of the data, and “gives potential to a chance association.” The team also cites four previous studies that found little or no connection between soda and pancreatic cancer.
There are a handful of definitive or suggested causes for pancreatic cancer, making this study even more difficult to interpret. Aside from red meat consumption, smoking and diabetes, risk factors include genetics, ethnicity, old age, obesity and even excessive alcohol consumption.
The American Heart Association advises that women should consume fewer than 6.5 teaspoons of added sugar a day, and men should limit their consumption to 9.5 teaspoons. Given that a single can of soda contains 13 teaspoons, Americans would be wise to cut down, whether or not they’re motivated by a potential cancer risk.