Published Monday, January 4, 2016 8:05AM EST
A new U.S. study has found that the high levels of sugar in the typical Western diet could promote the risk and spread of breast cancer.
Previous studies have already looked at how sugar can play a role in the development of cancer; however, according to the team of researchers from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, this is the first study to look at the direct effect of sugar consumption on the development of breast cancer and the specific mechanisms involved using breast cancer animal models.
In the study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, the breast cancer animal models were mice that had been genetically modified for breast cancer research, before being randomly placed into 4 different groups. Each group was then fed a different diet with varying levels of sugar until the mice reached six months of age.
At six months, the results showed that a diet with a level of sugar similar to that in the typical Western diet led to an increase in the growth of tumors and the spread of cancer to the lungs when compared to a non-sugar starch diet, with 50-58 per cent of mice who were fed a sucrose-enriched diet developing mammary tumors.
Looking at the mechanisms that may be involved in the growth and spread of tumors in the mice on the sugar diets, the team believe that sugar increases the enzyme known as 12-LOX and the fatty acid known as 12-HETE in breast cancer cells, which could both be factors in the growth and spread of breast cancer and warrant further investigation.
The results also found that fructose, found in table sugar and high-fructose corn syrup, a common ingredient throughout the U.S. food system, was a particular risk factor in increasing 12-HETE production in breast tumors and contributing to the spread of the disease to the lungs.
The team believes that identifying the risk factors for breast cancer is a public health priority, and advised a diet lower in sugar, especially as sugar consumption in the U.S. is on the increase, with sugar already being identified as a factor in the development of other health problems such as heart disease and obesity.
The findings were published online in the journal Cancer Research.