Worried about the rising prevalence of cancer and deaths, Belgian scientists have reported a breakthrough in understanding how sugar drives cancer growth. These findings were reported in the journal ‘Nature Communications’.

Over the years, precisely how sugar makes tumours grow faster had been a mystery and the new understanding could help lead to new ways to combat cancer, through diet and other modifications of sugar intake. Cancer is a group of diseases involving abnormal cell growth with the potential to invade or spread to other parts of the body.These contrast with benign tumours, which do not spread to other parts of the body.

Over 100 types of cancers affect humans. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that in 2015, about 90.5 million people had cancer globally, with about 14.1 million new cases occurring in one year. Similarly, worldwide, cancer caused about 8.8 million deaths, representing 15.7 per cent of human deaths. Although, the Federal Ministry of Health (FMOH) estimates that Nigeria records 102,000 new cancer cases yearly, 72,000 Nigerians die annually of cancer related diseases across the country.

“Data also shows that breast and cervical cancer are the two most common types of cancer responsible for approximately 50.3 per cent of all cancer cases in Nigeria.” The research team – led by Johan Thevelein, Wim Versées and Veerle Janssens – have been studying sugar’s link to cancer for nearly a decade. They, and other scientists, have determined tumour cells grow by rapidly breaking down glucose (a form of sugar) – a phenomenon known as the ‘Warburg effect,’ the ‘newsmaxHealth’ reported.

The researchers found that yeast with high levels of glucose over-stimulate proteins often found mutated inside human tumours, making cells grow faster. Thevelein said that follow- up research is needed to prove that eating a low-sugar diet could help prevent or combat cancer.