GRACE was fortunate enough to have Kelay Trentham, a nutritionist with a particular specialty as an Oncology Dietician who works at MultiCare Regional Cancer Center in Tacoma, WA, discuss several central questions about nutrition and cancer. Here are her comments. This is the first of a series of questions she discussed.
Every cell in our body uses glucose, which is the form of sugar that we distill all of our food down to for use as fuel, and cancer cells are not an exception to that. They use glucose for fuel just like other cells in our body, but one difference between a cancer cell and a normal cell is that cancer cells take up fuel at a much faster rate than normal cells. So that’s part of how they are just aberrant or abnormal cells, is that they take up nutrients, particularly glucose, at a much faster rate. You could compare it to RPMs on a car or if you were looking at your electric meter. The cancer cell’s electric meter just goes around quite a lot faster.
Simply eating sugar doesn’t promote cancer growth any more than eating anything else. I feel like this simplified concept – that sugar “feeds” cancer – that people see in the media or the internet, or sometimes in books and articles, is really not useful. Because our entire body’s primary fuel is glucose, and we need that to do all of our everyday activities.
Glucose is a sugar, and, again, lots of different kinds of foods are broken down into glucose. Things like your breads, your potatoes, peas, corn, etc. — all of those types of foods yield glucose during digestion — and then we use glucose for energy.
Now sugar may play an indirect role (in the development of cancer) if it’s eaten in excess. It can contribute to obesity. Sugar alone — refined sugar — is a concentrated source of calories, and when folks are overeating and putting on weight, we do know that obesity is a big risk factor for cancers. So excess sugar intake could contribute to the risk for cancer by contributing to obesity. But this doesn’t mean that eliminating sugar is necessarily going to reduce the rate at which cancer cells grow.
The best evidence so far, really, is that there is no direct link (between sugar and cancer). Carbohydrate is any type of sugar or starch, it’s our fuel; it’s what we use every day to keep us going.
Next: What is an “optimal diet” for someone with cancer?