Question & Answer

Does consuming sugar make a difference to cancer progression?

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The Evidence

  • There are many forms of sugar, and the most familiar are sucrose (which contains glucose and which we know as table sugar), and starch (which is made of glucose and is found in bread and potatoes). Honey and dried fruits are also mainly made of glucose.
  • Cancer is one of the leading causes of death worldwide. Cancer cells, like all other cells in our body, use sugar (glucose), protein, and fat for energy to grow.
  • Some people wonder if eating sugar-rich foods can make existing cancer grow or spread more quickly (called progression).
  • This belief stems from the fact that cancer cells, like all cells in our body, use sugar (glucose) for energy. However all cells in your body need sugar for energy, and you cannot control which cells get the sugar you consume. Also, cancer cells don’t only use sugar (glucose) to get energy. Like the other cells in our body, cancer cells also use protein and fat for energy.
  • We looked for reviews of studies and for individual studies that examined whether there’s a link between how much sugar (glucose) a person eats and how fast their cancer progresses. We didn’t find any studies that specifically investigated this question.

Guidelines and recommendations

  • We searched several national and international organisations including WHO, CDC, ECDC, HSE, HSPC for related guidelines and recommendations.
  • We did not find any guidelines and recommendations on sugar consumption and cancer progression.

Things to Remember


  • Lead Researcher: Dr. KM Saif-Ur-Rahman, Senior Research Methodologist, Evidence Synthesis Ireland and Cochrane Ireland, College of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences, University of Galway
  • Reviewed by: Prof Declan Devane, Professor of Health Research Methodology, Deputy Dean, College of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences, University of Galway, Scientific Director, HRB-Trials Methodology Research Network Director, Evidence Synthesis Ireland. Director, Cochrane Ireland
  • Topic advisor: Dr. Frances Shiely, Senior Lecturer in Epidemiology and Patient-Focused Research, jointly appointed to the HRB Clinical Research Facility and the School of Public Health, UCC, Director of Education for the HRB CRF-C, Programme Director for the MSc Clinical Trials (online) and co-PI and UCC lead for the HRB Trials Methodology Research Network.
  • Public and Patient advisor: Deirdre Mac Loughlin, Public and Patient Involvement in research (PPI) advisor, PPI Ignite, University of Galway.
  • Journalist Advisor: Dr. Claire O’Connell, PhD in cell biology, Masters in Science Communication. Contributor to The Irish Times, writing about health, science and innovation.

Conflict of Interest Statement: The authors have no financial or other conflicts of interest for this health claim summary.