Pancreatic Cancer Likes Fructose: Time to Panic?


The only way to prevent cancer is to eat nothing. Of course, then you have other problems.

Perhaps it is enough to hate high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) because the federal government has encouraged its production for decades by imposing high tariffs on sugar imports and by subsidizing corn farmers. (It's certainly enough for me.) In addition, HFCS-haters blame the sugar for making Americans ever fatter and less healthy. So with so much to hate to go around, when UCLA researchers reported earlier this week that feeding HFCS to pancreatic cancer cells boosts their proliferation in lab dishes, the media jumped on the story.  The study's chief author even suggested that a federal effort should be launched to reduce refined fructose intake modeled on earlier anti-smoking campaigns. Can it be long before health nannies like New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the Center for Science in the Public Interest begin crusading against the offending sweetener?  Of course, this is not the first cancer panic over sweeteners, all of which proved false.

So before jumping on the ban-wagon, let's consider a couple of points. HFCS generally contains a mixture of 55 percent fructose and 45 percent glucose. The favored sweetener, sucrose  (a.k.a. table sugar) is actually a molecule combined 50/50 of fructose and glucose. When sucrose is digested in the stomach it is dissociated into the two molecules which are then absorbed into the bloodstream.

The authors of the UCLA study ominously note that our consumption of HFCS has gone up 10-fold since 1970, and you know the conclusion you're supposed to reach: cancer epidemic!  But according to Cancer Facts & Figures 2010 issued by the American Cancer Society: "Incidence rates of pancreatic cancer have been stable in men since 1981, but have been increasing in women by 1.7% per year since 2000." In fact, the overall cancer incidence rate in the U.S. has been going down for nearly a decade, even as Americans pigged out on all those cakes and soft drinks sweetened by HFCS. But it would be silly to argue that HCFS consumption is preventing cancer.

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  1. Ban-wagon, ha, ha! Ban-wagon!

    Seriously, Ron, well, I’m totally confused. I guess your last sentence should have read ” But it would be silly to argue that HCFS consumption is causing cancer.”

    1. AV: HFCS up – cancer down. Cause or correlation? Get it now?

      1. It’s best to ignore Vanneman, or at least hurl vile insults at him.

        1. Is this a good place to proclaim that I’m fucking sick to death of books that add zombies to classic tales? I had galley proofs of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and the Undead cross my desk recently. No shit. I may just hunt down the author and rip off his right arm and beat him to death with it.

          1. How about sea monsters? You okay with those?

            1. Oh, well sure. Who doesn’t love sea monsters?

          2. It makes some sense to add zombies to terrible books like Jane Austen’s, but adding them to Tom Sawyer is an abomination.

            1. How about if we add the Hulk instead ofthe Abomination to Tom Sawyer…or how about his nuclear swizzle stick…wait the would be Tom Swift…

    2. What Ron is saying is that you could correlate HFCS consumption with a decrease in pancreatic cancer incidence, but it would be silly to do so. The moral of such a statement is that correlation is necessary for, but absolutely does not necessitate, causality.

      This really is simple, elementary logic. But you have to understand it before you can understand the humor in Ron’s sentence.

  2. I’m thinking the “solution” will be punitive taxes on consumption and increased subsidization of corn farmers, who need jobs. Because it’s all about jobs jobs jobs. And porker children who, through their corpulence, are bankrupting The Nation’s Healthcare?.

  3. In fact, the overall cancer incidence rate in the U.S. has been going down for nearly a decade, even as Americans pigged out on all those cakes and soft drinks sweetened by HFCS.

    I don’t know the numbers, but those aggregate numbers could be skewed by the sharp decline in smoking and lung cancer rates. Not to mention, better early screening for breast cancer in women and early prevention methods. Using the overall cancer incidence rate is just as much a fudging of the numbers. From the linked article (emphasis added):

    Overall cancer incidence rates decreased in the most recent time period in both men (1.3% per year from 2000 to 2006) and women (0.5% per year from 1998 to 2006), largely due to decreases in the 3 major cancer sites in men (lung, prostate, and colon and rectum [colorectum]) and 2 major cancer sites in women (breast and colorectum).

    1. O: No skewing – just countering the fairly common meme that cancer rates are increasing.

    2. Actually, better screening causes cancer incidence to got UP. Because, you know, its caught.

      1. Not necessarily. Better screening helps you catch it early, rather than after it metastasizes. It still counts as a cancer incidence if you catch it on day 10 or day 1,000. If you’re able to identify precancerous cells, it will cause cancer incidence to go down.

        1. screening should only be correlated to death from cancer rates

    3. That is my pet peeve with equating correlation with causation. Correlation studies are useless at proving cause and effect. It could be that HFCS is causing cancer in more people, but that that increase is more than offset by other factors. You mention early screening and lower rates of smoking. Another factor could be increased use of sunscreen (which actually increases risk of relatively rare carninoma, but reduces risk of more common and less aggressive skin cancers).

      1. Non-melanoma skin cancers (the types prevented by sunscreen) are so common that they are usually excluded from cancer statistics.

  4. Dave!

  5. You don’t think the believers about the evils of HFCS are going to let facts get in the way of their “science”.

  6. let’s consider a couple of points

    Don’t tell them that stuff! It’s like giving a gorilla a machete.

    At first they’ll say it’s totally different because poor-people molecules are “refined” or something (and therefore haram), but eventually they’ll get it, and they’ll ban metabolisis.

  7. So if fructose feeds cancer cells, doesn’t that mean that fruit (which is chock full o’ fructose) is bad for you?

    1. You just can’t wait to start picking on the fruits every time.

      1. Not his fault that you’re an easy target.

    2. What I’ve been told is that the amount of sugar in fruit is negligible next to the fiber and water in it. You’d need to eat, what, 20 apples to get as much sugar as a 20-oz pop? You can’t do it.

      1. Not without causing pretty severe colonic distress.

      2. That sounded wrong so I googled it, Warty. An apple, depending on size, has 15-25 g of sugar. About 20% of this is cellulose which is fiber we don’t digest, so apples have 12-20g (estimate) of sugar while a pepsi has 41 g. So 2-4 apples depending on size is the same or a bit more than 1 can of pepsi.

        1. That sounds right, and apple does have about 15-25 g of sugar. But not all of it is fructose–maybe half if I remember correctly. So the amount in one apple is quite small and not many people eat more than one at a time.

      3. Sorry, that is for a 12 oz. can so for a 20 oz. can it would be 1.66 times my previous answer which makes say 5 medium size apples (or 4-6 apples w/ size)

        1. So you still can’t do it, unless you’re Andre the Giant. My wild-ass guess was only off by 500% or so.

      4. Strawberries have about 200 calories a pound. If I could afford it, I’d eat a couple pounds a day. Watermelon and honeydew have about the same.

        1. You would be the king of poops. No toilet could resist the might of your poop.

          1. To really be the king, I’d have to add a couple pints of blueberries, to turn it green.

  8. What a garbage study. If we feed cells sugar they proliferate! Well no shit jack ass. I bet if we fed them cigarette smoke they would all die. Smoking cures cancer, HOORAY!

    1. +1. Beat me to the point. This study does not prove causation. It proves that feeding nutrients to cells — any cells — causes the cells to proliferate.

  9. Has anybody notified Bloomberg on this yet?

  10. HFCS is basically the same mix of fructose and glucose as honey. And I am old enough to remember when health nannies were telling us that sucrose was evil and we needed to use honey instead.

    1. I’m not old enough for that. Sugar is mostly evil so I would caution against most honey too.

  11. As soon as you eat sucrose, it gets broken into a 50/50 fructose/glucose mixture by the sucrase in your gut. Guess what are the approximate proportions of fructose and glucose in HFCS?

    So don’t be one of those fucking idiots who drinks Mexican coke because you think it’s healthy. Morons.

    1. Wait, that white powder I get from south of the border isn’t healthy? You mean the gummint was right about something? Dammit, Warty, you’re ruining my worldview.

    2. So don’t be one of those fucking idiots who drinks Mexican coke because you think it’s healthy.

      Anyone who thinks “raw cane sugar” is healthy compared to HCFS is retarded.

      1. No, dude, it’s “evaporated cane juice”.

  12. So feeding cells (cancerous or otherwise) hastens their growth. This was news?

    1. Somehow I skipped over where Law Student had already said nearly the same thing. Occipital and frontal lobe fail. That was probably HFCS’s fault as well. There should be a law!

      1. So feeding cancer cells sugar increases their growth? Is that what you were getting at, PH?

  13. What happened to the control groups, the ones fed table sugar, or sugar squeezed from fruit?

    I’m guessing that the cancers grew no matter what sugar-based food they were fed.

    1. If you look at the paper, Figure 1 is the important point that is being overlooked–the pancreatic cancer cells grew no faster in the presence of fructose than in the presence of glucose.

      The study shows that fructose metabolism may predispose cells to more nucleic acid synthesis compared to glucose, but in the absence of an observed increase in proliferation this is meaningless from a cancer standpoint.

  14. Ron,

    The title of your piece is “Pancreatic cancer likes fructose: Time to Panic?” Your article says no, fructose doesn’t cause pancreatic cancer. It’s only in your last paragraph that you switch the discussion of causality around. I mistook your last sentence as concluding your entire article, rather than the last paragraph.

  15. “reduce refined fructose intake modeled on earlier anti-smoking campaigns”

    So… a can of soda will go for $11.50. That’s gonna suck at the vending machine.

    1. But, with so many coins filling up the machines faster, think of the vending machine jobs that are created.

      1. And coin minting jobs. Why, we’d be crazy NOT to decuple the price of soda.

  16. Good post, Ron.

    I particularly like this take on HFCS:…..index.html

  17. Still, the reason we have HFCS, is because government tariffs real sugar, and subsidizes corn. So while this study has its issues, we should rally around this to eliminate the tariffs and subsides. BTW, there is a real taste and texture difference in Coke with HFCS vs sugar. Personally, as one who drinks maybe 1 coke every three months, I prefer the pure sugar form.

    1. I prefer not drinking poison at all, regardless of which one tastes better.

  18. Cancer rate down with HFCS usage up? Imagine how far down the cancer rate would have been without HFCS polluting our systems for decades!

    1. While correllation is not a sufficient condition of causation, it is a necessary one.

  19. Hell, since you used the American Cancer Society as your source, we should all just shrug and say there is nothing to see here, right?
    Gullible Sheople need to die out quickly, before it is too late for us sane ones to fix this mess.

  20. I only have the abstract, but it looks like the study found that systhesis of deoxyribose is the rate limiting step for in their in vitro cancer culture, and that fructose is more easily converted to deoxyribose than glucose.

    For this to be clinically relevant, it must also be the case that fructose availablity is the limiting factor for deoxyribose synthesis in vivo and that deoxyribose synthesis is the rate limiting factor for cancer growth in vivo. If it is the case that deoxyribose is the rate limiting factor for a cancer in vivo, eating a low enough fructose diet may slow the rate of cancer growth (not stop, since glucose can be made into deoxyribose by another pathway), but it shouldn’t make a difference if you don’t have cancer and it may actually be harmful, since normal cell division requires synthesizing nucleic acids as well. So, best case scenario, reduction of dietary fructose may buy you some additional time if you already have cancer.

  21. Sharing what others have to say about the UCLA study.

    “Both the authors and the press need to retract these alarmist and unsupported claims ? especially the authors, since such gross over-interpretation of a lab study is inexcusable among academic scientists. They seem to be grasping for headlines and promoting some anti-fructose political agenda.” Gilbert Ross, M.D., Executive Director and Medical Director of the American Council on Science and Health,, August 4, 2010

    “This is fructose they are talking about, not HFCS specifically. HFCS is not particularly high in fructose compared to table sugar. Both are about 50% fructose and are about equal in their effects. So is honey. Agave has even more.” Marion Nestle, Ph.D., Paulette Goddard Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health, New York University,, August 4, 2010

    “I hate science press releases that hype a study beyond its importance. I hate it even more when the investigators who published the study make statements not justified by the study and use the study as a jumping off point to speculate wildly.” Orac at, Respectful Insolence Blog, August 5, 2010

    Also see Fooducate Blog and Booster Shots

    See other points of view on high fructose corn syrup at

    Shannon McNamara, Corn Refiners Association

    1. Too bad there wasn’t real research done on HFCS before it was placed in our food supply. Now that we’ve got an American population that is mostly overweight and trying to figure out why, maybe we could have avoided it all in the first place by being cautious about the introduction of an unknown substance that today is truly ubiquitous?it is found in almost all processed foods.

      That, to me, is the scandal. To repeat, very little research was done on HFCS before it was inserted into nearly all processed foods. And we now question studies which implicate it in type 2 diabetes and, just recently, pancreatic cancer? Some comments seem to indicate it’s just an innocent player in our food additive list that’s no worse than table sugar. Get real.

      Consider Thalidomide. In the fifties a cautious U.S. Surgeon General, I believe, stopped its introduction in the United States. Europe did not, and used it widely. Pregnant women took it as a sedative and gave birth to babies with missing limbs and other abnormalities. It was a drug that did not undergo sufficient testing before it became widely used. Because caution was used here in the U.S. we largely avoided this tragedy.

      Sad to say we weren’t at all cautious about the introduction of HFCS into our food supply.

      Dr. Lustig of UCSF did a rather complete analysis of HFCS. His video on the topic can be googled. Please do yourself a favor and view the only significant on-line explication of the controversy.


  22. Thank you for investigating the truth?not the hype and fearmongering?surrounding high fructose corn syrup.

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