Sugar's Role in Cancer

Dec 9, 2020 | Megan Roessler M. Ed. | @meganroessler | Comments (18)

sugar_shutterstock_296066060Article contributed by Mayo Clinic dietician, Jackie See

Sugar seems to be a major source of anxiety and fear for people with cancer.  There is a myth circulating that sugar feeds cancer and that avoiding sugar will prevent the growth of cancer. To set things straight…sugar does not cause cancer on its own.  Giving sugar to cancer cells does not make them grow faster and depriving cancer cells of sugar does not make them grow more slowly.  However, sugar may be indirectly involved in the development of cancer.

How it happens

Much research shows that it is sugar’s relationship to overweight and obesity that may influence cancer cell growth the most. Sugar is a major source of extra calories, which can contribute to weight gain and obesity. But, it’s not just sugar. Too many calories from any source - carbohydrate, fat and even protein – can lead to weight gain.  Extra weight not only increases the risk of diabetes and heart disease but is also a risk factor for 13 different cancers.

One of the ways excess weight can lead to cancer is through insulin resistance and insulin-like growth factors in the blood. Both excess weight and lack of physical activity can lead to an increased risk of insulin resistance. Although insulin resistance can also be hereditary, it usually happens when the overweight body can no longer make enough insulin to remove sugar from the blood. Exercise also helps remove sugar from the blood.

Blood sugar and insulin levels in lean, active people usually stay in a healthy range regardless of what they eat. Sugar provides only empty calories and no other nutrients.  Nutrition guidelines encourage all of us to cut down on added sugar because it is such a big source of calories in the American diet. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend no more than 10% of our calories from sugar. On a 2000 calorie per day diet, this would be 50 grams or 12 tsp of added sugar. The American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugar to 25 grams (6 tsp) per day for women and 37 grams (9 tsp) per day for men. This adds up quickly if you drink sweetened soft drinks or eat candy and desserts on a regular basis. For example, a can of Coke contains 29 grams (7 tsp) of sugar and an average size Hershey bar, 24 grams (6 tsp).  Even healthy foods can contain significant amounts of added sugar. A 6-ounce container of low fat yogurt may contain up to 15 grams (4 tsp) of added sugar and a Nutri-grain bar contains 12 grams or 3 tsp.

Excess body fat also produces other substances that contribute to the development or growth of certain cancer types. Fat cells produce estrogen, which can fuel breast and endometrial cancers.  Fat cells produce other growth factors and cause inflammation that can coax the development and progression of cancer.

Your risk of insulin resistance and other causes of weight-related cancers can be reduced by maintaining a healthy weight and staying physically active.  If you are overweight, even losing 10% of your weight can help. Talk to your medical team about your risks for cancer or recurrence of cancer.  If you are at a healthy weight, try to maintain that weight. Also try to get a minimum of 150 minutes of physical activity each week.

If you are curious, here is a list of cancers that are linked to obesity:

  • Breast cancer (post-menopausal)
  • Colon/rectum
  • Esophagus
  • Multiple myeloma (a cancer of the blood cells)
  • Meningioma (a type of brain cancer)
  • Kidney
  • Endometrium/uterus
  • Ovary
  • Thyroid
  • Liver
  • Gall bladder
  • Upper stomach
  • Pancreas

Interested in more newsfeed posts like this? Go to the Cancer Education blog.

Yikes! I was told by a Physicians Assistant at Cleveland Clinic that sugar does not feed Prostate Cancer. This reaffirms what the PA told me. Now when we travel to my wife's home state of Mississippi I can have as much home made bread pudding as I want.

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Is that the only cancer you feel you have or can get?

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SKIN CANCER…WOYD LIKE A DIET TO HELP PREVENT RETURN

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At age 50 was diagnosed with Adult Leukemia, aka, Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia, CLL. I was told I could expect a good 5-15 years. I always ate a healthy diet previously, not much alcohol or processed sugar so at that time I decided to indulge and live life to the fullest.
For no explainable reason my CLL regressed without treatment after watching my blood counts worsen for 10 years. After 15 years no signs left. Today at age 73 still good blood counts. That said—-
I developed Allergic Contact Dermatitis, ACD a for of eczema also at age 50. Avoidance of allergens was the key, but yet I still had internal inflammation and burning and stinging 24/7. By age 69 the internal symptoms' became unbearable. I began an anti-inflammation diet which is reported to help many diseases.
The Yeast Connection Handbook by William Crooke, MD. Within 3 months my internal inflammation was abated and gone were the miserable internal, inside the skin symptoms. Trust me I was at the point of suicide the misery was so great. Today and for the for the last 4 years these ACD internal symptoms' are gone. I follow the diets maintenance plan. I will never ever go off it.
Cancer is an autoimmune disease like eczema, yes I highly recommend dieting, mainly avoiding processed sugar to drop your inflammation level.
The book I follow is simply, easy to understand, hand drawn explanations about what is going on inside your body. It saved my life.

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@eve1932

SKIN CANCER…WOYD LIKE A DIET TO HELP PREVENT RETURN

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Hi @eve1932
While there is no particular diet that prevents skin cancer or the recurrence of skin cancer. Good nutrition is important for many reasons. Below I included some links on skin cancer and 7 Tips for Cancer Prevention.
https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/skin-cancer/symptoms-causes/syc-20377605
https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/cancer-prevention/art-20044816
What are things that you eat to keep you healthy and feeling good?
Angie

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Read Warburg Effect.
Husband had stage four pancreatic cancer.
Survivor of six + years post diagnosis. No surgery. Plant based Whole Foods diet, daily exercise, low processed sugar and low processed foods helped immensely and lots of friends support and of course God. Patient was given three months to live initially.

Gave same advice to prostate cancer patient. He experienced a dramatic drop in his PSA. He’s a survivor also today.

Not for everybody. But it sure helped us.

It helped me too.
I was was with osteoporosis and high blood pressure. Threw my meds away with my Mayo PCP blessings. I am Meds free today!

One other thing. We are born with teeth structured to eat plants not meat. God didn’t make mistakes.
And our dental check ups are cavities free and gum disease free.

Thank you Mayo for your outstanding support in all of our new lifestyle changes.

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Hi @dotmoto
So glad to hear you have seen wonderful health benefits while following a plant-based whole foods diet. Making dietary changes can be quite difficult. The benefits of reducing added sugars in the diet can certainly help maintain a healthy weight or help with weight loss. Including daily activity improves overall health and can assist with weight loss.

There is a lot of misinformation about the relationship between sugar and cancer, it is a more indirect relationship. Here are some links to help clarify: https://higherlogicdownload.s3.amazonaws.com/THEACADEMY/5305c4a8-5a9a-419b-9f22-89c196d27453/UploadedImages/ON/Documents/Sugar_and_Cancer-7_22.pdf
https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cancer/in-depth/cancer-causes/art-20044714
Angie

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Thank you for your comments and your article you provided.
But your article reports..”High GI diets have been linked to increased risk of digestive and hormonal related cancers: colorectal, liver, pancreatic, breast, endometrial and ovarian. “
We eat too much sugars and fat in our typical American diet and cause more health problems than just cancer.
Please refer to people as Dr Michael Greger, Dr Neil Bernard, Dr Colin Campbell, Dr Caldwell Esselstyn, Dr Andrew Weil, and Dr Donald Abrams. Or ask your neighborhood school nurse about if adolescent diabetes has experienced a dramatic increase.

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I have been on a whole food diet my entire life, and have had breast cancer, skin cancer, and now Chronic Leukemia. I grow my own vegetables or buy organic from the local farmers, do not eat meat, am very interested in nutrition, have studied it in college, and still cancer #3. My diet is mainly vegetables, protein, fruit.

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@gardeningjunkie

At age 50 was diagnosed with Adult Leukemia, aka, Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia, CLL. I was told I could expect a good 5-15 years. I always ate a healthy diet previously, not much alcohol or processed sugar so at that time I decided to indulge and live life to the fullest.
For no explainable reason my CLL regressed without treatment after watching my blood counts worsen for 10 years. After 15 years no signs left. Today at age 73 still good blood counts. That said—-
I developed Allergic Contact Dermatitis, ACD a for of eczema also at age 50. Avoidance of allergens was the key, but yet I still had internal inflammation and burning and stinging 24/7. By age 69 the internal symptoms' became unbearable. I began an anti-inflammation diet which is reported to help many diseases.
The Yeast Connection Handbook by William Crooke, MD. Within 3 months my internal inflammation was abated and gone were the miserable internal, inside the skin symptoms. Trust me I was at the point of suicide the misery was so great. Today and for the for the last 4 years these ACD internal symptoms' are gone. I follow the diets maintenance plan. I will never ever go off it.
Cancer is an autoimmune disease like eczema, yes I highly recommend dieting, mainly avoiding processed sugar to drop your inflammation level.
The book I follow is simply, easy to understand, hand drawn explanations about what is going on inside your body. It saved my life.

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Hi i have cll too. I refuse chemo 5 years ago i m 66 y/o And I m still fine. Please What Kind of vegetable oil do you use? How high was/is your lymphocyte level ?
I think oil are toxic except olive oil.
Regards Philippe (France)

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@lucyinhawaii

I have been on a whole food diet my entire life, and have had breast cancer, skin cancer, and now Chronic Leukemia. I grow my own vegetables or buy organic from the local farmers, do not eat meat, am very interested in nutrition, have studied it in college, and still cancer #3. My diet is mainly vegetables, protein, fruit.

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@lucyinhawaii You have made nutrition a part of your healthy lifestyle, which I am sure has benefitted you in many ways. Unfortunately, good nutrition doesn't always prevent cancer. Research supports lower incidence of cancer in people who have a good diet. You will also find individuals, like yourself, who eat well and get cancer. You will also find people who don't have a great diet and don't get cancer. Having said all that, I still think your nutritional choices are good ones and should continue!

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While this excellent article is focused on sugar's role or indirect association with cancer, there are many other health-related problems associated with too much sugar in the diet. Obesity contributes to the development of Diabetes 2, coronary heart disease, hypertension which can lead to stroke, and high cholesterol. Cancer research brings new information every day. I did not have the major risk factors such as obesity for endometrial cancer and yet I'm a cancer survivor. There is much we still do not know about cancer. I can see no downside to regular exercise and a healthy plant-based diet.

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