Pancreatic cancers use fructose, common in Western diet, to fuel growth, study finds

Pancreatic cancers use the sugar fructose, very common in the Western diet, to activate a key cellular pathway that drives cell division, helping the cancer grow more quickly, a study by researchers at UCLA's Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center has found.

Although it is widely known that cancers use glucose, a simple sugar, to fuel their growth, this is the first time a link has been shown between fructose and cancer proliferation, said the study's senior author, Dr. Anthony Heaney, an associate professor of medicine and neurosurgery and a Jonsson Cancer Center researcher.

"The bottom line is the modern diet contains a lot of refined sugar including fructose, and it's a hidden danger implicated in a lot of modern diseases, such as obesity, diabetes and fatty liver," said Heaney, who also serves as co-director of the Pituitary Tumor and Neuroendocrine Program at UCLA. "In this study, we show that cancers can use fructose just as readily as glucose to fuel their growth."

The study is published in the Aug. 1 issue of the peer-reviewed journal Cancer Research.

Sources of fructose in the Western diet include cane sugar (sucrose) and high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), a corn-based sweetener that has been on the market since about 1970. HFCS accounts for more than 40 percent of the caloric sweeteners added to foods and beverages, and it is by far the most frequently used sweetener in American soft drinks.

Between 1970 and 1990, the consumption of HFCS in the U.S. increased by more than 1,000 percent, according to an article in the April 2004 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Food companies use HFCS - a mixture of fructose and glucose - because it is inexpensive, easy to transport and keeps foods moist. And because of its excessive sweetness, it is cost-effective for companies to use small quantities of HCFS in place of more expensive sweeteners or flavorings.