Cancer is a ferocious force. Unlike normal cells, cancer cells start to grow and divide out of control. This proliferation tends to spread from the original site to other parts of the body, rendering treatments less effective. However, steps can be taken to thwart the growth of cancerous cells in the first place.
The link between diet and cancer risk is hard to establish because many factors can influence the results.
However, strong associations between specific dietary items and cancer risk have been identified over the years.
One of the more alarming findings comes from a study published in the British Medical Journal.
The study, entitled “Sugary drink consumption and risk of cancer: results from NutriNet-Santé prospective cohort”, found 100 percent fruit juices were significantly associated with overall cancer risk.
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First author Eloi Chazelas, from the Sorbonne Paris Cité Epidemiology and Statistics Research Center in France and his team examined the links between the intake of sugary drinks and various forms of cancer in 101,257 French adults aged 42 years, on average.
The researchers obtained the data from the NutriNet-Santé study, which focuses on the complex link between nutrition and health status.
The drinks they examined included “sugar-sweetened beverages” such as soft drinks, syrups, fruit drinks, 100 percent fruit juices without any added sugar, milk-based sugary drinks, sports drinks, and energy drinks.
The researchers also considered artificially-sweetened drinks, that is, “all beverages containing nonnutritive sweeteners, such as diet soft drinks, sugar-free syrups, and diet milk-based beverages”.
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Using 24-hour online food questionnaires, the researchers assessed the participants’ consumption of 3,300 different kinds of foods and drinks.
Furthermore, clinical observation of the participants continued for up to nine years.
During this time, the researchers looked at the risk of “overall, breast, prostate, and colorectal cancer.”
Mr Chazelas and colleagues accounted for potential confounders, including age, sex, education, hereditary risk of cancer, and lifestyle factors — such as smoking behaviour and exercise patterns.
What did the researchers find out?
The consumption of sugary drinks was “significantly associated” with the risk of overall cancer, they wrote.
They found the consumption of artificially sweetened beverages was not associated with the risk of cancer.
However, the consumption of 100 percent fruit juice was “significantly associated” with the risk of overall cancer, they observed.
“In this large prospective study, the consumption of sugary drinks was positively associated with the risk of overall cancer and breast cancer,” they concluded.
One hundred percent fruit juices were also “positively associated with the risk of overall cancer”, researchers added.
They acknowledged that definitive conclusions should not be drawn from the study.
“These results need replication in other large scale prospective studies.”
They suggested that sugary drinks, which are widely consumed in Western countries, might represent a modifiable risk factor for cancer prevention.
General symptoms of cancer to watch out for include unexplained pain or ache, very heavy night sweats and explained weight loss.