Cancer Treatment Centers of America

Understanding the link between fructose and pancreatic cancer


blog fructose pancreatic cancer

In July, we looked at the question of whether sugar “feeds” cancer and found that there is no conclusive research on human subjects to prove that sugar makes cancerous cells grow and metastasize. 

November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month, so we wanted to share what’s happening in the research world as scientists continue to study the connection between sugar and cancer. We also offer insight and recommendations from one of our medical oncologists.

One of the most publicized studies regarding sugar and pancreatic cancer was published in 2010 in the journal Cancer Research. The study suggests that fructose causes pancreatic cancer cells to grow faster. In their laboratory experiment, the scientists found that pancreatic tumor cells were able to distinguish between glucose and fructose, which are structurally similar. 

The cells metabolized the sugars differently but used both sugars to promote cell division and growth. Every cell in the human body, including cancer cells, need glucose for energy and growth. The study showed for the first time that cancer cells also use fructose to proliferate.

Considering the typical American consumes fructose daily, the study’s findings could cause concern. Americans have been getting a lot more fructose than in the past. Consumption of high-fructose corn syrup increased more than 1,000 percent between 1970 and 1990. This common ingredient is found in soft drinks and processed foods such as salad dressings, ketchup, jams, jellies and ice cream. Most clinicians agree high-fructose corn syrup, which is about 55 percent fructose and 45 percent glucose, should be consumed in moderation.

While the UCLA study looked at pure fructose, not high-fructose corn syrup, Dr. Madappa Kundranda, a medical oncologist at our hospital in Goodyear, Arizona, helped us interpret the findings.

“The authors have performed a series of well-done experiments that are extremely thought-provoking,” says Dr. Kundranda. “However, several studies have demonstrated the benefit of naturally occurring fructose in fresh fruits and vegetables in the prevention of pancreatic cancer.”

If the UCLA scientists are onto something, we have to ask, could limiting fructose in your diet slow the growth of pancreatic cancer? Dr. Kundranda says it’s too early to know. “We currently do not fully understand the exact mechanism of these confounding differences,” he says of the role of fructose in both promoting and preventing pancreatic cancer.

“Until more information is available, limiting the amount of synthetically produced high-fructose content (high fructose corn syrup and alternates like agave nectar) and consuming a healthy, well-balanced diet including fruits and vegetable would be the appropriate approach, both in the prevention and during the treatment of pancreatic cancer,” he adds.

Learn more about the benefits of good nutrition during cancer care.