The Sugar-Cancer Connection


You may have heard the question posed on 60 Minutes: “Is sugar toxic?” According to the segment’s host, Sanjay Gupta, “the average American consumes 130 pounds of sugar a year.” But, you say, “I don’t eat sweets.” Are you sure about that? Sugar lurks in many foods—whole-grain bread, fat-free yogurt, organic spaghetti sauce…the list goes on.

60 Minutes featured interviews with Dr. Robert Lustig—the doctor who fueled the anti-sugar movement with his YouTube video, “Sugar: The Bitter Truth”—as well as a nutritionist, a neuroscientist, and a cell biologist. The cell biologist, Lewis Cantley, is also a biochemist at Harvard Medical School and a leading cancer researcher. In the interview with Gupta, Cantley noted the increase in insulin that sugar causes and said, “if you happen to have the tumor that has insulin receptors on it, then it will get stimulated to take up the glucose that’s in the bloodstream rather than go into fat or muscle—the glucose goes into the tumor. And the tumor uses it to grow.”

The facts behind the sugar-cancer connection started as long ago as 1931, when Otto Warburg won the Nobel Prize in Physiology for his discovery that cancer cells have a different metabolism than normal cells. Read more about Warburg’s discovery and what it tells us about glucose and cancer in this book excerpt by Patrick Quillin. It’s more complicated than “stop eating sugar, and you won’t get cancer,” of course, and Quillin deftly presents the details. But when Gupta asked Cantley what he would do if he were to offer him a sugary drink, Cantley said, “I probably would turn it down and get a glass of water.” Yeah, I think I’ll go with the Harvard scientist on this one.

Samantha Prust

Samantha Prust is a freelance writer, editor, and owner of Your Editor On Call in Fort Collins, Colorado. She can be contacted at

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