Does sugar directly feed cancers, boosting their growth? The answer seems to be ‘Yes’ at least in mice according to a study led by researchers at Baylor College of Medicine and Weill Cornell Medicine. Their study, published in Science, showed that consuming a daily modest amount of high-fructose corn syrup—the equivalent of people drinking about 12 ounces of a sugar-sweetened beverage daily—accelerates the growth of intestinal tumors in mouse models of the disease, independently of obesity. The team also discovered the mechanism by which the consumption of sugary drinks can directly feed cancer growth, suggesting potential novel therapeutic strategies.
“An increasing number of observational studies have raised awareness of the association between consuming sugary drinks, obesity and the risk of colorectal cancer,” said co-corresponding author Dr. Jihye Yun, assistant professor of molecular and human genetics at Baylor. “The current thought is that sugar is harmful to our health mainly because consuming too much can lead to obesity. We know that obesity increases the risk of many types of cancer including colorectal cancer; however, we were uncertain whether a direct and causal link existed between sugar consumption and cancer. Therefore, I decided to address this important question when I was a postdoc in the Dr. Lewis Cantley lab at Weill Cornell Medicine.
First, Yun and her colleagues generated a mouse model of early-stage colon cancer where APC gene is deleted. “APC is a gatekeeper in colorectal cancer. Deleting this protein is like removing the breaks of a car. Without it, normal intestinal cells neither stop growing nor die, forming early stage tumors called polyps. More than 90 percent of colorectal cancer patients have this type of APC mutation”, Yun said.