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WCRF/AICR
Global Network

For Immediate Release: January 5, 2010
Contact: Mya Nelson, 202-328-7744 x247

In the News: Study Links High Blood Sugar Levels to Cancer

A new study has suggested that having high blood sugar levels may increase risk of cancer, independently of body weight.

Scientists at Umeć University in Sweden looked at the levels of sugar in the blood of more than 500,000 people and then found out if they later went on to develop cancer.

The results suggest people with high blood sugar levels may be at increased risk of both developing cancer and also of dying from the disease; this association was stronger for women than for men. The strongest blood sugar-cancer links observed were for pancreatic cancer, particularly in women, and liver cancer in men.

But experts at the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) cautioned that while the findings are interesting and correspond with the results of a similar study in South Korea, more studies are needed to determine if lowering blood sugar levels (which can be done through eating a healthy diet, being physically active and staying a healthy weight) can reduce cancer risk.

AICR already recommends limiting consumption of energy-dense foods, including foods high in sugar, and avoiding sugary drinks because this is important for maintaining a healthy weight. Scientists now say that, after not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight is the most important thing people can do for cancer prevention. An estimated 100,000 cases of cancer a year in the US could be prevented if everyone was a healthy weight.

“These are interesting findings because they raise the possibility that controlling blood sugar levels may be a way to reduce risk of some cancers,” said AICR Director of Research Susan Higginbotham, PhD, RD.

“But it is important to emphasize that this is a single study. The results need to be replicated in other investigations.

“But what we already know is that there is evidence that eating the kind of healthy diet that prevents high blood sugar levels such as eating plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains - has the potential to prevent many thousands of cases of cancer in the US every year.”

“There is also strong evidence that being overweight increases risk of six types of cancer,” she continued. “And because having high-energy foods such as sugar and fat makes us more likely to be overweight, this is a very good reason to limit the amount of these foods in your diet. This is why we recommend people avoid sugary drinks and limit consumption of energy-dense foods, particularly those high in added sugar and fat, and low in fiber.”

Details of the New Study

  • This study looked at 274,126 men and 275,818 women from Norway, Austria and Sweden who had an average age of 44.8. When they were followed up after 10.4 years, 18,621 men and 11,664 women had been diagnosed with cancer, and 6,973 men and 3,088 women had died of the disease.
  • The study found that for men, there were significant increases in risk of developing and dying from cancers of the liver, gallbladder, and respiratory tract. There was also increased risk of developing thyroid cancer and multiple melanomas, and of dying from rectal cancer.
  • For women, there was increased risk of both developing and dying from pancreatic cancer. There was increased risk of developing urinary bladder cancer, and of dying from cancers of the uterine corpus, cervix uteri, and stomach.
  • This study is part of the Me-Can project, which is looking at risk factors for the metabolic syndrome such as a large waistline; high blood pressure; levels of fats in the blood; low levels of "good" cholesterol; and high blood sugar levels.
  • The study was funded by the World Cancer Research Fund, a global network of cancer charities united by a mission to study the role of diet, physical activity and weight in cancer, and educate the public about the results of that research. AICR is the US member of the World Cancer Research Fund International.

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The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) is the cancer charity that fosters research on the relationship of nutrition, physical activity and weight management to cancer risk, interprets the scientific literature and educates the public about the results. It has contributed more than $96 million for innovative research conducted at universities, hospitals and research centers across the country. AICR has published two landmark reports that interpret the accumulated research in the field, and is committed to a process of continuous review. AICR also provides a wide range of educational programs to help millions of Americans learn to make dietary changes for lower cancer risk. Its award-winning New American Plate program is presented in brochures, seminars and on its website, www.aicr.org. AICR is part of the global network of charities that are dedicated to the prevention of cancer. The WCRF global network is led and unified by WCRF International, a membership association that operates as the umbrella organization for the network. The other charities in the WCRF network are World Cancer Research Fund in the UK (www.wcrf-uk.org); Wereld Kanker Onderzoek Fonds in the Netherlands (www.wcrf-nl.org); World Cancer Research Fund Hong Kong (www.wcrf-hk.org); and Fonds Mondial de Recherche contre le Cancer in France (www.fmrc.fr).

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