Sugar-Filled Drinks Could Be Cause for Alarm After a Breast Cancer Diagnosis

Consuming even one sugar-sweetened drink per day such as soda, fruit-flavored drinks, energy drinks, punches and sports drinks after a breast cancer diagnosis could increase the risk of mortality.

After a breast cancer diagnosis, a higher consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages can be associated with a higher risk of breast-cancer specific mortality and death from all causes, according to data published in Cancer.

“This study means that women with breast cancer, if they have sugar-sweetened beverages after the breast cancer diagnosis, they should cut the drink and then they should eliminate the amount of the drinking (of sugar-sweetened beverages) or decrease the amount of the drinking,” Maryam S. Farvid, research scientist in the department of epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said in an interview with CURE®. “This is very important for (women with breast cancer) because if they have a high intake of sugar-sweetened beverages — and in our study, high intake was even once per week — this can increase the risk of mortality among them.”

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Through previous studies, it has been hypothesized that activation of insulin pathways may promote tumor growth and worsen survival among patients with breast cancer, according to this study’s introduction. Furthermore, sugar-sweetened beverages such as soda, fruit-flavored drinks, punches, sports drinks and energy drinks can lead to a higher risk of insulin resistance, which could affect survival among this patient population. Based on this, the study authors sought to discover a possible relationship between sugar-sweetened beverage and artificially sweetened beverage consumption and mortality among women with breast cancer.

Women with stage 1 through 3 breast cancer (8,863 patients) were identified for the current study. All women completed a food frequency questionnaire every four years after their breast cancer diagnosis, and follow-up was conducted until death or the end of follow-up. After a median follow up of 11.5 years, there was a total of 2,482 deaths, with 1,050 related to breast cancer.

Women who consumed more sugar-sweetened beverages had a higher breast cancer specific mortality and all-cause mortality compared to those women who did not consume sugar-sweetened beverages. Farvid noted in the interview. She added that women who consumed even one sugar-sweetened drink per day had an almost 30% higher risk of breast cancer-related mortality compared with those who drank other beverages.

“Just changing from one beverage to another, we found that, that can decrease the risk of mortality among (patients with cancer),” Farvid added. “It’s very, very important for (these patients) because it can help them to live longer. This is a very important message of this study.”

Artificially sweetened beverage consumption was not associated with a higher risk of breast cancer-specific or all-cause mortality. In addition, replacing one serving per day of a sugar-sweetened beverage with one serving per day of an artificially sweetened beverage was not associated with a lower risk of mortality. However, replacing one serving per day of sugar-sweetened beverage with coffee or tea lowered risk of breast cancer specific mortality by 18% and 15%, respectively.

“It is very easy to change a diet from not (drinking) sugar-sweetened beverages, but if they have coffee, tea or even water instead of sugar-sweetened beverages, (the study) showed that if they change it from one beverage to another, it would be possible to live longer,” Farvid said.

The study authors also noted sugar-sweetened drink consumption is associated with weight gain. Since obesity and overweight have been associated with a poorer breast cancer prognoses, this connection could increase the risk of breast cancer mortality further.

“Given the biologic link between obesity and diabetes and poor breast cancer outcomes, changing beverage drinking patterns by replacing (sugar-sweetened beverages) with water, coffee or tea and reducing (sugar-sweetened beverage) consumption may be a potentially practical strategy to reduce mortality among women with breast cancer,” the study authors wrote.

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