Eating lots of sugar and sugar-sweetened foods could increase a person's likelihood of developing cancer of the pancreas, by far one of the deadliest types of cancer, Swedish researchers report.
Dr Susanna C Larsson of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm and her colleagues found that pancreatic cancer was significantly more likely to strike men and women who added the most sugar to their food and consumed the greatest quantities of soft drinks.
The researchers followed 77,797 men and women aged 45 to 83 for an average of about seven years. Those who reported eating five or more servings of added sugar daily, for example sugar added to tea, coffee or cereal, were 69 per cent more likely to develop pancreatic cancer than those who never added sugar to their food or drink.
People who consumed two or more servings of soft drinks a day had a 93 per cent greater risk of pancreatic cancer compared to those who abstained from these beverages. Eating sweetened fruit soups or stewed fruit increased risk by 51 per cent.
But there was no association between sweets, marmalade, or jams and pancreatic cancer risk, possibly because these foods are eaten less frequently and in smaller quantities, Larsson and her colleagues write.
Factors involved in the loss of sensitivity to the blood-sugar processing hormone insulin, such as sedentary lifestyle, obesity and diabetes, have all been tied directly to pancreatic cancer, a disease that kills the vast majority of people diagnosed within five years, Larsson and her team note in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Eating too much sugar could therefore conceivably boost pancreatic cancer risk by putting greater demands on the pancreas to produce insulin while reducing sensitivity to the hormone, as well as through a number of other potential mechanisms.
"Given the practical implications of these findings and the poor prognosis of pancreatic cancer, further research on sugar and high-sugar foods in relation to pancreatic cancer risk is warranted," the researchers conclude.