COVID-19: For information related to COVID-19 (formerly referred to as “novel coronavirus"), visit

VCU Massey Cancer Center


Integrative health myths & facts: sugar & cancer

There has been a lot of buzz about sugar making cancer cells grow faster and causing the cancer to spread faster, but what does the research suggest? 

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) states that “although research has shown that cancer cells consume more sugar (glucose) than normal cells, no studies have shown that eating sugar will make your cancer worse or that, if you stop eating sugar, your cancer will shrink or disappear. However, a high-sugar diet may contribute to excess weight gain, and obesity is associated with an increased risk of developing several types of cancer” (NCI, 2016). 

The Mayo Clinic adds that “sugar doesn't make cancer grow faster. All cells, including cancer cells, depend on blood sugar (glucose) for energy. But giving more sugar to cancer cells doesn't speed their growth. Likewise, depriving cancer cells of sugar doesn't slow their growth” (Mayo, 2016).

Rather than sugar itself leading to cancer cell growth, much research has shown that it may be sugar’s relationship to higher insulin levels and related growth factors. Obesity, inactivity and genetic susceptibility are risk factors for consistently elevated insulin levels. In addition, these can increase risk for insulin resistance. So, it is recommended that one maintain a healthy weight and exercise to help maintain normal blood sugar and insulin levels.

The overall suggestion is to eat a healthy diet that includes complex carbohydrates rather than the high-sugar diets many of us are drawn to. Complex carbohydrates can include vegetables, fruit, whole grains and beans—all balancing protein, fat and fiber. This allows your body to produce the needed sugars that help cell growth in a healthy way. MD Anderson suggests trying natural sugars like molasses or honey because they have small amounts of antioxidants. However, remember that these are also high in calories and are overall low in nutrient density, so amounts should be limited. 

Visit Oncology Nutrition for a helpful resource about how sugar works in your body.

Written by: Massey Communications Office

Posted on: September 26, 2016

Category: Prevention & control

View graphic versionView graphic version