Sugar and Cancer: What You Need to Know

Sugar and Cancer Treatments

Sugar and Cancer: What You Need to Know

If you’ve recently received a cancer diagnosis, you probably have a lot of questions. Additionally, you may be eager to do everything in your power to streamline your cancer treatment and to avoid anything that might make your cancer worse. One specific point of discussion – sugar – remains a controversial topic, with various opinions on its safety during cancer treatment. Continue reading to learn if you should avoid consuming sugar during cancer treatment

What is Sugar, Exactly?

When you think of sugar, you most likely imagine the white granulated substance you can buy at grocery stores. This type of sugar is called sucrose and is often referred to as table sugar, granulated sugar, or regular sugar. There are, however, many other types of sugar. You can find sugar in all foods that contain carbohydrates – fruit, grains, dairy, and vegetables. 

The three different types of sugars present in carbohydrates are glucose, fructose, and galactose. Different types of naturally occurring sugars have different levels of sweetness and various caloric contents. 

When you hear your doctor express concern about sugar, they are most likely referring to the “added sugar” or sweetener added to food during preparation. 

Cancer 101

Before we get into examining sugar’s effects on cancer and cancer treatment, let’s refresh our memory on what cancer is and how it spreads. Cancer is a disease in which abnormal cells divide uncontrollably and spread to other parts of the body, destroying body tissues. 

Under normal circumstances, cells grow and multiply by a process called cell division. The body sends signals to form new cells on an “as needed” basis. When normal cells become damaged or/and die, new cells come to take their place. 

Sometimes this process breaks down, and abnormal and damaged cells continue to divide and grow when they shouldn’t. As a result, abnormal cells can form into tumors, which can be cancerous. 

Cancer cells differ from regular cells in the following ways:

  • Grow in the absence of signals telling them to grow. 
  • Ignore signals to stop dividing or to die.
  • Invade into nearby areas and spread to other areas of the body. 
  • Hide from the immune system. 
  • Rely on different kinds of nutrients than normal cells. 

Sugar and Cancer

All cells, including cancer cells, use glucose (a simple form of sugar) as their primary fuel source. Glucose comes from healthy foods that contain carbohydrates, like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and dairy. Glucose also comes from foods with refined carbohydrates and added sugars, like white bread, pasta, sweets, and sweetened beverages. 

The idea that glucose, or sugar, could fuel the growth of cancer cells could sound alarming and can make some patients question whether cutting out sugar during cancer treatment is necessary. But, unfortunately, the answer is not that simple. 

All of our healthy cells need glucose to function, and there is no way for our bodies to give glucose to the healthy cells but avoid giving it to cancer cells. What’s more, avoiding foods with carbohydrates (and therefore sugars) can lead to the breakdown of protein stores in your body and result in muscle loss and malnutrition.

The Verdict

Avoiding sugars altogether during your cancer treatment is not possible, nor is it safe. However, being mindful of your diet and avoiding unnecessary added sugar could help your overall health. 

To date, there are no studies that suggest that sugar causes cancer. There are, however, studies that show that sugar could have an indirect link to cancer. Eating high amounts of sugary foods, like cookies, cakes, and sodas, can lead to excess caloric intake. Excess caloric intake can lead to weight gain and excess body fat. And being overweight can, in turn, lead to an increased risk of cancer. 

So while eating foods that contain natural sugars is perfectly fine, avoiding eating too many foods with added sugar could benefit you.

How We Can Help

Discussing your diet with your healthcare provider can help make your cancer treatment go more smoothly and allow you to have more energy and feel healthier. If you have any questions about sugar or any other diet-related issues during your cancer treatment, Alabama Cancer Care is here to provide you with answers. 

Alabama Cancer Care in Alabama Has You Covered

Whether you have specific questions about your sugar intake or want to learn more about improving your diet during cancer treatment, Alabama Cancer Care is here for you. Call us in Anniston at (256) 847-3369, Ft. Payne at (256) 845-3500, Gadsden at (256) 547-0536, Montgomery at (334) 273-8877, and Sylacauga at (256) 245-0297.