A new study out of Belgium may have made a breakthrough in what causes cancer cells to grow and develop. The preliminary results of the study, released in October 2017, show that there may be a relationship between a type of sugar, known as glucose, and cancer growth.

According to the study, which was published in Nature Communications, cancer cells appear to process sugar differently than other healthy cells.  The study looked at yeast, which gets energy from fermenting sugar, much like tumors. After yeast cells were treated with high levels of glucose, they not only grew, but grew rapidly. This finding indicates that sugar may cause cancer cells to multiply faster and increase the aggressiveness of tumors.

“This study shows that oncogenes, or genes that are abnormally expressed in cancer because of mutations, can also be abnormally expressed from high sugar exposure,” said Dr. Laurie Herscher, Director of Integrative Oncology and a radiation oncologist with Adventist HealthCare Shady Grove Medical Center. “This may be one of the links between high sugar diets and cancer incidence that has been noted for a number of different kinds of cancer.”

Because the study’s results are so new, further research is required to determine the true cause and effect of this relationship. However, researchers believe their findings may eventually help treat cancer with diets that are low in sugar.

While we wait for further results about the role of sugar and other outside influences on cancer cells, the Integrative Medicine team at Adventist HealthCare Shady Grove Medical Center already is guiding patients to make lifestyle changes and choices that impact their total well-being and disease management. .

“The focus of integrative medicine is on the entire system, body, mind and spirit, because, as this study indicates, there are drivers of cancer activity that are beyond the cancer cell itself and are lifestyle related,” said Herscher.  “Integrative oncology is like a sub-specialty of integrative medicine and has long held that high sugar diets are not good for cancer patients.  This study provides some of the science behind that observation.”