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Sugar consumption shown to be a driving factor in onset of pancreatic cancer

Copyright: BBSRC

In some individuals, a diet high in sugar increases the likelihood of developing pancreatic cancer and also drives the aggressive growth of tumours, a study by researchers from the Babraham Institute, Cambridge, UK, and VIB-KU Leuven, Belgium, has found.

The researchers completed a comprehensive project using experimental work in mice and human data, including from pancreatic cancer patients, to understand the influence of different dietary components on the development and progression of pancreatic cancer. The research is published in the journal Cell Reports. Pancreatic cancer is a rare but fatal form of cancer, due to late detection and a poor understanding of the risk factors. Known risk factors include obesity, diet and type 2 diabetes, however the low incidence rate and interconnection of these factors mean that it is difficult to tease apart their individual contribution.

The researchers first studied the effects of obesity, diet and diabetes on pancreatic cancer development, growth and lethality in mice. In parallel they analysed the effect of diet using data from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) study, which followed over half a million Europeans for 20 years.

The researchers found that obesity, diet and diabetes had profound and differing impacts on cancer incidence and growth. Using mice, the results indicated that obesity, dietary animal fats and dietary sugar were independent drivers of different facets of pancreatic cancer progression. In particular, the results shed light on how pancreatic cancer might be affected by dietary sugar, with more rapid tumour growth and escalated lethality.

The effect of dietary sugars on pancreatic cancer development was preserved between mice and humans. In 500 study participants with pancreatic cancer, the researchers explored the interaction between genes and diet and found that high levels of dietary sugar increased pancreatic cancer risk in individuals with a certain genetic variation (found in 6% of the population).

Professor Melanie Welham, Executive Chair of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) said: “The clear findings from this research shows the value of using data at large scale over a long period of time and with international co-operation. The stark conclusion that sugar toxicity is a key driver of pancreatic cancer will inform public policy and clinical practice. Nothing better illustrates the power of the bioscience, that BBSRC funds and guides, to make a difference.”