Is Sugar Linked to Breast Cancer?

Jennifer O'Donnell-Giles | October 25, 2016

Eating excessively sugary foods can lead to a multitude of health problems, from obesity and heart disease to fatty liver disease and type 2 diabetes. But can it also increase your risk for breast cancer?

Sugar’s potential role in the development of breast cancer made headlines across social media platforms and news stations earlier this year.

“Sugar in Western Diets Increases Risk for Breast Cancer Tumors and Metastasis”

“Sugar Intake May Increase Risk for Breast Cancer”

“Sugar Gave My Family Cancer”

“The Common Dietary Ingredient May Increase Breast Cancer and Lung Metastasis Risk”

When these headlines went public, there were discussions suggesting that sugar not only causes cancer, but it can also increase the rate at which the cancer spreads. NBC and CBS even went as far as to blame sugar consumption for causing more advanced cancers. However, while sugar and sugary foods have been proven to wreak havoc on our bodies, no studies thus far have concluded that excess sugar intake directly causes breast cancer. The reality is that we have very little data linking certain foods to the spread of cancer and no scientific evidence proving that sugar, itself, leads to breast cancer.

This fear of sugar and its possible link to breast cancer was caused by a preliminary animal study on mice at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. While the study showed that 50 to 58 percent of the mice on the sugar-enriched diet developed mammary tumors, further investigations are necessary to prove whether or not sugar can directly cause breast cancer.

The inconclusive study doesn’t mean, however, that we can eat all the sugary foods we want without having to worry about the consequences. According to the American Cancer Society, sugar doesn’t make cancer cells grow faster but it leads to other health conditions, such as obesity, that can increase your risk for cancer. On top of that, excess sugar intake puts you at greater risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

With that being said, we have to watch our sugar intake carefully. The World Health Organization recommends that no more than five percent of our daily caloric intake should come from sugar. Our bodies actually need natural sugars from whole foods, such as fruits and vegetables, to properly function throughout the day. The sugars we want to avoid are those found in sweetened beverages and highly processed foods.

We shouldn’t be too quick to believe everything that comes across our newsfeed, especially in our modern day culture of information overload. Before making lifestyle changes, crosscheck the facts using trustworthy sources and consult with your physician. Your personal dietary changes should always stem from an honest look at your own individual need, health history, and long term goals, as well as proven scientific facts – not inflated news headlines.


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Jennifer O'Donnell-Giles

Jenn Giles, R.D., C.S.S.D. is all about health and wellness. She has over 15 years’ experience, including a dual master’s degree in Nutrition and Exercise Physiology from Columbia University. She is a Registered Dietitian (RD) and a Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD). She supplements all of this with her spin instructor certification and USATriathlon Level I Coach Certification.

Jennifer is passionate about (actually, obsessed with) the sport of triathlon. She has been personally participating in triathlons since 2000 and running road races since 1992. She is a two-time Ironman finisher and has completed countless numerous marathons. She has been a member of Power Bar Team Elite since 2006 and competed as a member of the 2006 Aquaphor/Active.com Sponsored Athlete Team. She was ranked as USAT All American Honorable mention in 2006 and 2011. Jennifer does all of this along side of her husband, Patrick, who is an equally accomplished triathlete and runner. They try as hard as they can to do all of their training and racing together.

She will tell you, however, that her most important, most rewarding and most challenging job is as a mother of four. She knows first hand the challenges of maintaining optimal fitness, overall good health and achieving goals while raising a family - of which good nutrition is the cornerstone.

Most importantly, she knows how to motivate, inspire and challenge athletes based on their own abilities, strengths and everyday lifestyles. She believes there is an athlete in everyone - no matter what their abilities are – and if those abilities are manifold, then there is an even better athlete in there!

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