Does Sugar Intake Directly Increase Risk of Cancer?

By Eliana Rosenzweig

A study conducted by researchers at Baylor College of Medicine and Weill Cornell Medicine found that daily consumption of a modest amount of high-fructose corn syrup increases the rate of growth of intestinal tumors in mouse. Previously, sugar has been considered to be an indirect correlate of cancer. Sugar was thought to lead to a direct increase in obesity, which then put people at higher risk of developing cancer. However, this study supports a causal relationship between sugar and increasing risk for cancer, independent of obesity.

This study created a model of early-stage colon cancer in a mouse using the method of deleting the APC gene, which essentially halts the growth and death of intestinal cells, allowing early stage tumors, or polyps, to form. In fact, over 90% of people affected by colon cancer have a mutation in the APC gene. The team of researchers gave the mice sugar-sweetened water, which contained 25% high-fructose corn syrup, a sugar sweetener that contains mostly sugars glucose and fructose. In order to mimic daily consumption of one can of soda per day and to avoid causing obesity in the mice, the mice were given the sugary water in a special syringe once a day. In just two months, researchers noticed that the mice were not becoming obese, instead they were developing tumors that were greater in size and more advanced than the control mice given regular water.

The mechanisms of the tumor growth with sugary water were also explored in the mice. Using technology to trace the fructose and glucose sugars in the mice, researchers found that the fructose was chemically broken down to enable to the glucose sugars to better form fatty acids, which effectively bolstered tumor growth.

Although this research has not been tested in humans, the results of the study support the notion that chronic consumption of sugary drinks may accelerate the progression of colorectal cancer and leads to new understanding of the mechanisms by which sugar can accelerate intestinal tumor growth at the molecular level.


Baylor College of Medicine. (2019, March 21). High-fructose corn syrup boosts intestinal tumor growth in mice. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 24, 2019 from