Pancreatic cancer: the suspected role of sugar

The large amounts of sugar that are added to many industrial foods are known to promote excess weight and obesity. Several recent studies suggest that high sugar intake may also play an important role in the development of pancreatic cancer.

Most pancreatic cancers are caused by uncontrolled growth of cells located in the region of the gland involved in the secretion of digestive enzymes (the exocrine pancreas). The presence of a cancerous mass at this level usually goes unnoticed in the early stages of the disease, so the cancer may already have reached a very aggressive stage when the first symptoms appear (pain, loss of appetite, weight loss, jaundice) . Unfortunately, at this stage, pancreatic cancer is extremely difficult to treat and leaves little chance of survival: barely 5% of people with this cancer are still alive five years after the onset of the disease.

The factors responsible for the development of pancreatic cancer are still poorly understood, but it seems that certain facets of lifestyle have a major influence on the risk of being affected by this disease. For example, pancreatic cancer is more common in smokers, obese people, and heavy eaters of red meat (especially in the form of deli meats). Conversely, people who consume plenty of green vegetables, rich in folate (asparagus, spinach, watercress) seem less at risk.

Sugar has become sugar-enriched sugar

Several studies suggest that people who consume a lot of foods containing large amounts of sugar have an increased risk of pancreatic cancer. More than 80% of this excess intake comes from sugar that is artificially added to processed foods, such as soft drinks, the most important being sucrose (table sugar). This sugar is formed by the assembly of a molecule of glucose and a molecule of fructose: thus, what is called sucrose is a sugar composed of 50% glucose and 50% fructose. This sugar leads to the massive absorption of glucose and fructose by the body’s cells.

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Sugar as an accelerator of cancer cell proliferation

It is generally believed that the negative impact of an overconsumption of sugary foods is explained by an excess of glucose in the blood: the metabolism of glucose by the cells leads to the accumulation of fat in the adipose tissues, this excess of fat causing an imbalance in the management of sugar and the appearance in the more or less long term of type 2 diabetes.

American researchers have shown that the excess fructose associated with the overconsumption of sugar (sucrose) can also have very harmful repercussions on health, in particular when this fructose is absorbed by cancerous cells of the pancreas. They observed that these cells are able to metabolize fructose in a completely different way, using the sugar not as a source of energy, but rather as a starting point for the synthesis of nucleotides, the constituents of DNA. Since the production of these nucleotides represents a limiting step in the growth of cancer cells, the high fructose intake allows them to circumvent this restriction and thus grow indefinitely.

Prevent pancreatic cancer

Modifying certain lifestyle factors that increase the risk of pancreatic cancer is the best approach to combating this terrifying disease. Reducing the consumption of products containing added sugars, combined with quitting smoking, reducing the consumption of red meats and maintaining a normal body weight, is the best way to achieve this.


Michaud DS et al. Dietary sugar, glycemic load, and pancreatic cancer risk in a prospective study. J Natl Cancer Inst, 94:1293-300.

Liu H et al. Fructose induces transketolase flux to promote pancreatic cancer growth. Cancer Res, 70:6368-76.

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