Increased Risk of Gallbladder Cancer May Be Linked to Consuming Large Amounts of Sweetened Beverages


Key Points

  • High consumption of sweetened beverages was associated with a statistically significant increased risk of biliary tract cancer, especially gallbladder cancer.
  • Compared with nonconsumers, people who consumed two or more servings per day of sweetened beverages had a 1.8-fold increased risk of developing extrahepatic bilary tract cancer and a 2.2-fold increased risk of developing gallbladder cancer.
  • Further studies of the relationship between sweetened beverage consumption, preferably separately for sugar-sweetened and artificially sweetened drinks, and the risk of biliary tract cancer and gallbladder cancer are warranted.

A large prospective Swedish study reported by Larsson et al found a 2.2-fold increased risk of gallbladder cancer in people who consumed two or more servings of sweetened beverages a day compared with nonconsumers. The researchers also found a 1.8-fold increase in extrahepatic biliary tract cancer in consumers of sweetened beverages compared with nonconsumers. Sweetened beverages often contain high amounts of sucrose, which was also positively associated with the risk of gallbladder cancer in this study, which was published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Study Methodology

Researchers analyzed data gathered from 70,832 Swedish adults (31,258 women, aged 49–83, and 39,574 men, aged 45–79) enrolled in the Swedish Mammography Cohort and the Cohort of Swedish Men. The participants were free of cancer and diabetes and completed a food frequency questionnaire at baseline. Participants were asked about their education, smoking habits, weight, height, physical activity, alcohol consumption, and diet.

The incidence of biliary tract cancer was ascertained by record linkage with the Swedish Cancer Register. A Cox proportional hazards regression model was used to analyze the data. All statistical tests were two-sided.

Study Results

During a mean follow-up of 13.4 years, the researchers found 127 cases of extrahepatic biliary tract cancer, including 71 cases of gallbladder cancer and 21 cases of intrahepatic biliary tract cancer. After adjusting for other risk factors, women and men in the highest category of combined sugar-sweetened and artificially sweetened beverage consumption had a statistically significantly increased risk of extrahepatic biliary tract cancer and gallbladder cancer.

The multivariable hazard ratios for two or more servings per day (200 mL/serving) of sweetened beverages compared with no consumption were 1.79 (95% confidence interval [CI] = 1.02–3.13) for extrahepatic biliary tract cancer and 2.24 (95% CI = 1.02–4.89) for gallbladder cancer. The corresponding hazard ratio for intrahepatic biliary tract cancer was 1.69 (95% CI = 0.41–7.03).

The findings support the hypothesis that high consumption of sweetened beverages may increase the risk of biliary tract cancer, especially gallbladder cancer, concluded the researchers.

Susanna C. Larsson, PhD, of the Unit of Nutritional Epidemiology at the Institute of Environmental Medicine at Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden, is the corresponding author of this study.

Funding for this study was provided by the Swedish Research Council/Council for Research Infrastructures, the Strategic Research Area in Epidemiology at the Karolinska Institutet, and the Swedish Cancer Foundation.

The content in this post has not been reviewed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Inc. (ASCO®) and does not necessarily reflect the ideas and opinions of ASCO®.