Does Sugar Feed Cancer Cells?


The topic that I have always received the most questions about is sugar. Not only from cancer patients, but from family & friends too. Hot topic 🙂  A newly published 9 year research study regarding sugar & cancer is in the news this week. The news headlines state that this study has shown that sugar makes cancer cells grow faster and the tumor to become more aggressive. The response to this news is usually; “I knew that because of my PET scan”. 

Before we get into the study itself, I am re-sharing a post from the Mayo Clinic. In spite of the new research, it is still correct.

Mayo Clinic: Cancer…”Myth: People with cancer shouldn’t eat sugar, since it can cause cancer to grow faster…

Fact: Sugar doesn’t make cancer grow faster. All cells, including cancer cells, depend on blood sugar (glucose) for energy. But giving more sugar to cancer cells doesn’t speed their growth. Likewise, depriving cancer cells of sugar doesn’t slow their growth.


This misconception may be based in part on a misunderstanding of positron emission tomography (PET) scans, which use a small amount of radioactive tracer — typically a form of glucose. All tissues in your body absorb some of this tracer, but tissues that are using more energy — including cancer cells — absorb greater amounts. For this reason, some people have concluded that cancer cells grow faster on sugar. But this isn’t true.

However, there is some evidence that consuming large amounts of sugar is associated with an increased risk of certain cancers, including esophageal cancer. It can also lead to weight gain and increase the risk of obesity and diabetes, which may increase the risk of cancer.

All cells in your body need sugar/glucose to function properly. Cancer cells grow & divide more quickly than normal cells do. Thus they need more energy to accomplish this. This energy comes from the breakdown of glucose. 

The best article that I have found to explain this is from Cancer research UK: Sugar and cancer – what you need to know, May 15, 2017  I highly recommend that you read the entire article. 

Okay, now lets look at this new study. The research was on yeast cells which react to sugar in the same way as cancer cells. It certainly brings up more questions than answers. 

Because of copyright issues I can’t use parts of these articles to illustrate what the research study found. I will summarize it as best as I can & you can read them for more details.

The research findings, by Belgian scientists, suggests that the “Warburg effect” actually does exist. The Warburg effect is that cancer tumors use a much higher amount of sugar when compared to normal/healthy cells. This has been a well known fact, through observation, for a very long time. What makes it so significant is that scientists didn’t know if the Walburg effect was a symptom of cancer or if it was a cause of cancer. It is sort of a chicken & egg question. This study is suggesting that it may be a cause. 

The results show that the high use of sugar by the cancer cells stimulate the tumor growth & make it more aggressive. As stated by the research team; this is a scientific breakthrough but not a medical breakthrough…yet. They do go on to say that health teams will now be able to give cancer patients a specific diet based on their findings. But in subsequent articles that I have read, oncologists, dietitians & scientists are saying that there needs to be a lot more research done to prove this. 

As one person is quoted as saying, breaking glucose down into energy does not involve just one product. This means that there is a long way to go before stating that the Walburg effect is the cause of cancer. The researchers agreed with this. 

Science Daily: Scientists reveal the relationship between sugar, cancer, October 13, 2017  

Bioscience:  Breakthrough study confirms that sugar exacerbates cancer by Alex Lee 16 Oct 2017

Do these findings change anything for cancer patients? And does it change anything for the population in general? All cells need sugar/glucose. There is not a way for the body to send glucose to healthy cells & withdraw glucose from cancer cells.

The following article is very informative & describes the Warburg effect in scientific terms. The cancer cells are using fermentation rather than respiration as your healthy cells do to break down sugar/glucose for energy. One of the scientific facts it talks about is that when all cells are deprived of glucose for energy they will use fat & protein. Being on a prolonged low sugar diet/a low carbohydrate diet, can lead to health problems by limiting nutrients the body needs to maintain balance. It won’t starve the cancer cells.

CUTTING CARBS WON’T SAVE YOU FROM CANCER  By 10.20.17  This article is worth reading in its entirety. 

So what is the answer while we are waiting for more research to be done? We already know 🙂 Eat whole foods in all the food groups. Limit or omit processed foods & sugary drinks. Read the labels! Look for ADDED corn syrup, maple syrup, cane sugar, honey & more. Having desert on special occasions is fine, just limit how often you partake. 

This is a good season to take this information seriously. Halloween is all about Candy now. You can take a stand on this & give out non-candy treats. Thanksgiving & Christmas dinners can still be tasty. Serve more vegetables & just one favorite desert. Moderation!

Until next week…Mary 🙂

To read my previous Sugar Posts; under Topics: Sugar or you can enter sugar into the search box at the top of each page.