Is sugar intake linked with breast cancer risk?

Increased breast density is one of the risks in developing breast cancer, and new research published today in BMC Public Health suggests that sugar is associated with this issue. In this guest blog, the authors of the paper tell us more about their research and its implications.


Mammography and breast density

Estimation of the proportion of densities in relation to fat. Densities are composed of epithelial and stromal cells. Image source: Caroline Diorio, Oncology Division, St Sacrement Hospital, Quebec City, Canada

Sugar consumption has tripled over the past 50 years. This excessive consumption seems to lead to several health problems, particularly chronic ones like diabetes, hypertension and cancer, including breast cancer. Considering that breast cancer is the most common cancer among women worldwide, research on modifying factors, such as dietary behaviors, is very important from a prevention point of view.

In our study published today, we evaluated the association between sweet foods consumption and breast density, one of the stronger risk factors for breast cancer.

Breast density is a measure of the proportion of the breast occupied by epithelial and stromal tissue relative to fat. It is therefore considered to reflect the quantity of non-fat breast tissue and thus the population of breast cells at risk of carcinogenic transformation.

Breast cancer generally arises in epithelial cells, and an increase in overall epithelial cell number is believed to increase the risk of breast cancer.  Therefore, as breast density increases, so does the risk of developing breast cancer.

Our analyses have shown that high consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages is associated with higher breast density among premenopausal women and that high consumption of sweets foods, like desserts, is also associated with higher density among postmenopausal women.

Women don’t have a lot of control over the prevention of breast cancer as most of the risk factors are not alterable. In fact, the most common breast cancer risk factors are age, family history of breast cancer, genetics, number of children, and oestrogen levels.

Breast density is not fixed, it can be modified. For example, tamoxifen, a drug commonly used for breast cancer treatment, can reduce breast density by 6.4% in a four and a half year period. Tamoxifen can reduce breast cancer risk by 30-50%. Thus, the observed association in our study brings a new insight on what women can do to reduce their own breast cancer risk.

The positive impact of reducing sugar intake in the diet might not only be a breast cancer risk reduction, but could also have beneficial effects on several other health problems. Daily sugar intake reduction can be part of a global public health plan to promote health in general, reduce obesity and reduce the risk of several chronic diseases including breast cancer.

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