Do daily fizzy drinks cause cancer?

A recent survey indicates that fizzy drinks increase the risk of pancreatic cancer. Emma Baines reports

What is the story?
Drinking two fizzy drinks a day nearly doubles your risk of developing one of the worst forms of cancer, according to media reports.

The papers claimed that people who drank two or more cans of fizzy drinks a day had a 90 per cent increased risk of pancreatic cancer, which is fatal in almost all cases.

People who add sugar to their tea or coffee were also at increased risk of developing the cancer, the papers said.

They said that the best advice for people looking to avoid the cancer was to restrict consumption of sugary foods and drinks.

What is the research?
The media reports are based on a Swedish study to see if sugar consumption contributed to pancreatic cancer risk.

The study included 77,797 people aged 45 to 83 who filled out a food frequency questionnaire in 1997. They were followed up until 2005. Over that period, 131 of them developed pancreatic cancer.

The researchers found that drinking two or more soft drinks a day was associated with a two-fold increased risk of pancreatic cancer. Having five or more servings of food or drink with added sugar a day increased the risk by 92 per cent.

Eating one or more portions of stewed fruit a week raised the risk by 37 per cent.

However, there was no association between pancreatic cancer risk and the consumption of jam or marmalade, or sweets.

What do the researchers say?
Lead researcher Dr Susanna Larsson, from the department of environmental medicine at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, said the study showed a high consumption of very sugary foods was associated with an increased risk of pancreatic cancer.

She added that because in most cases the disease, which affects 7,000 patients a year in the UK, is fatal, more studies focusing on ways to prevent pancreatic cancer were needed.

‘It is perhaps the most serious form of cancer, with very poor prognoses for its victims.

‘Since it is difficult to treat and is often discovered too late, it's particularly important that we learn to prevent it,' she said.

What do other experts say?
Sue Ballard, founder of the charity Pancreatic Cancer UK, said that it was logical that a high sugar intake could increase the risk of pancreatic cancer through putting extra stress on the organ.

But she added that studies including a larger number of patients with the disease would need to be carried out before high sugar intake could be conclusively proved to cause pancreatic cancer.

She added that the best step any patient could take to reduce their risk of pancreatic cancer would be to stop smoking.

‘Smoking increases your chances of developing pancreatic cancer by between 20 and 30 per cent.

‘The number of people developing pancreatic cancer over the past 50 years has dropped largely because the number of men who smoke has fallen,' she said.

Henry Snowcroft, a policy officer at Cancer Research UK, agreed that this study alone was not enough to prove a link between sugar intake and pancreatic cancer risk.

‘We know that a person's diet has a significant effect on their risk of several types of cancer.

‘This report highlights the need for further research to understand the specific effect of sugar intake on pancreatic cancer risk,' he said.

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