The Link Between Excessive Sugar Intake and Cancer

Research findings show that people who consume more sugary drinks are more likely to have cancer.
Reading time 7 minutes

"It is likely that the negative health effects of sweetened beverages are largely due to the sugar they contain," says Dr. Ruth Everatt, an epidemiologist at the National Cancer Institute.


A study in France involved more than 100,000 adults, and a comprehensive survey of their diet was conducted, following the health of the participants for nine years.


"Studies have shown that drinking 100 ml (1 small glass) of a sweet drink a day increases the risk of cancer by 18% (breast cancer by 22%), and has been linked to 100% juice intake," says Dr. R. Everatt. "No association between artificial sweeteners and cancer was found, but the number of subjects who consumed these drinks was low, and the results may have been unreliable."


According to the authors of the study, the adverse health effects of sweetened drinks were mainly due to the sugar in them. High levels of sugar in food or beverages contribute to overweight and obesity, and overweight is a risk factor for various types of cancer (oral, pharyngeal, larynx, certain types of esophagus and stomach, pancreas, gall, liver, colon, post-menopause, ovarian, uterine, kidney, and advanced prostate cancer).


Other factors, such as high glycemic index, additives in sweet drinks (such as 4-methylimidazole in caramel-flavored beverages), or pesticides may have increased the likelihood of cancer. "More prospective and experimental research is needed to confirm the results of this study and to find out the causes of the association between sweet drinks and cancer risk," Dr. Everatt comments.

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Photo by Omid Armin / Unsplash

Sugar is a commonly used carbohydrate that imparts a sweet taste to food. There are different types of sugar - glucose, fructose, lactose, maltose, and sucrose (table sugar). Some sugars (glucose, fructose, lactose) naturally occur in fruits, vegetables, and other foods. However, many foods that we consume contain added sugar - that is, the sugar we add to the food itself to improve the taste or what had already been added by the manufacturers. The primary sources of added sugar are soft drinks, cakes, chocolate, fruit drinks, and desserts. For example, one can of coca-cola contains up to 7 teaspoons of sugar, and a medium cup of chocolate can contain up to 6 teaspoons of sugar.


"It is precisely the added sugar that is associated with many health problems," says Dr. R. Everatt. "There is ample evidence that added sugars increase obesity in children and adults. In Lithuania, 60% of adults and about 20% of children (7-17 years) are overweight or obese, and childhood obesity has steadily increased over the last 20 years."

In Lithuania, about 20% of children (7-17 years) are overweight or obese, and childhood obesity has steadily increased over the last 20 years.

The World Health Organization recommends limiting the intake of added sugars to less than 10% of the daily energy intake, which reduces the likelihood of overweight, obesity, and tooth decay in children and adults. For more significant health benefits, it is recommended that the amount of added sugars in the diet be further reduced to 5% of daily energy intake where possible. WHO recommendations do not refer to sugars in fresh fruit and vegetables or sugars in milk, as there is no evidence that these sugars have a negative effect.


"Sugar is naturally found in many foods and can be used as part of a healthy and balanced diet, following recommendations and maintaining physical activity," says Dr. R. Everatt. "Those who seek to reduce the risk of cancer for themselves and their families are advised to follow the European Code Against Cancer, developed by international experts. One of the recommendations is to eat healthy, eat a lot of whole grains, legumes, and other vegetables and fruits, limit your intake of foods high in sugar and fat, and avoid sugary drinks."

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Photo by Sharon McCutcheon / Unsplash

Studies show that in many parts of the world, sugar is consumed way too much. According to a study conducted in Lithuania, 41% of men and 30% of women add two teaspoons or more of sugar to a cup of tea or coffee, while 34% of adult men and 22% of women consume soft drinks once a week or more often.


Some countries have introduced taxes on juices and sugary drinks with added sugars to reduce sugar intake, as these drinks increase childhood obesity and the incidence of diabetes among adults.


According to Dr. Everatt, most sugary drinks have no nutritional value and are extremely high in calories. "Studies have found that drinking a lot of sweet drinks increases the risk of premature death and cancer," she says. "There is not enough research on the health effects of 100% juice, but small amounts of pure juice can be beneficial because of its vitamins and minerals, which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties."

How to Reduce Sugar Levels

If you want to reduce your sugar intake to the recommended level (less than 10% of your daily energy intake), we recommend:


  • reduce the amount of sugar regularly added to drinks or foods such as tea, coffee, porridge, flakes or pancakes;
  • limit your intake of foods high in sugar and avoid sugary drinks;
  • replace sugar-sweetened beverages with sugar-free drinks;
  • read food labels, compare products and select the ones with the least amount of added sugar;
  • when baking pies, reduce the amount of sugar in the recipe by a third;
  • try replacing the sugar in the recipe with spices (cinnamon, ginger, almonds or vanilla);
  • add fruit to porridge or flakes instead of sugar.

How To Reduce Cancer Risk

The 12 recommendations to reduce the risk of cancer are contained in the Fourth European Code Against Cancer:


  • Do not smoke. Do not consume any tobacco products.
  • Avoid smoking in your home. Maintain a no smoking policy at your workplace.
  • Keep your body weight normal - healthy.
  • Be physically active every day. Limit the amount of time you spend sitting.
  • Eat Healthy: Eat lots of whole grains, legumes, and other vegetables and fruits, limit your intake of high-calorie foods (high in sugar and fat), avoid sugary drinks, avoid processed meats (smoked meats, canned food, etc.), limit red meat and the consumption of salty foods.
  • Limit the consumption of any type of alcohol. To avoid cancer, it is best not to use it at all.
  • Avoid being in the sun too long, especially to protect children. Use sunscreen. Do not use sunbeds.
  • Avoid exposure to cancer-causing substances at your workplace by following safe work instructions
  • Find out if you are exposed to naturally occurring excessive concentrations of radon in your home. Take steps to reduce it.
  • Breastfeeding reduces the risk of breast cancer, especially for the breast. Breastfeed your baby if you can. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) increases the risk of certain forms of cancer. Limit the use of PHT.
  • Provide your children with vaccination programs: hepatitis B (newborns), human papillomavirus (HPV) (girls)
  • Participate in screening programs for cancer: cervical cancer (women), breast cancer (women), colon cancer (men and women).

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