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High Sugar Consumption May Be Linked to Increased Risk of Premature Aging in Pediatric Cancer Survivors


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Survivors of pediatric cancer who consumed more total sugar, added sugar, and sugar-sweetened beverages had more aging-related health conditions than survivors who consumed less sugar, according to a new study presented by Lan et al at the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Special Conference: Aging and Cancer (Abstract B004).

Background

Pediatric patients with cancer are often treated with regimens such as chemotherapy and radiation, which can damage growing tissues and cause health problems later in life. One pattern that researchers have recognized is the propensity for pediatric cancer survivors to develop aging-related health conditions at a younger age than the general population.

“[Pediatric] cancer used to be a fatal disease, but with recent advances in treatment, [pediatric] cancer survivors live much longer than they used to,” explained senior study author Yikyung Park, ScD, Associate Professor of Surgery in the Division of Public Health Sciences at the Institute of Clinical and Translational Sciences as well as the Alvin J. Siteman Cancer Center at the Washington University School of Medicine. “They develop aging-related health conditions at a much earlier age and a much higher rate,” continued Dr. Park, highlighting that she and her colleagues “wanted to understand if there are any modifiable factors we can target to delay this significant problem.”

High consumption of sugar has previously been linked to a variety of health problems—including obesity, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes—which pose increased risks as individuals age. Researchers have also found signs that sugar can accelerate mechanisms of aging, such as inflammation.

“Childhood cancer survivors are a very vulnerable population,” said lead study author Tuo Lan, MS, MPH, PhD, a postdoctoral research associate in the Division of Public Health Sciences at the Alvin J. Siteman Cancer Center at the Washington University School of Medicine. “We were interested in seeing whether sugar intake had the same effect or a more severe effect on premature aging in childhood cancer survivors compared with the general population.”

KEY POINTS

  • For every 25 grams of sugar consumed per day, intermediate-risk survivors had a 24% increased chance of premature aging, and high-risk survivors had a 30% increased chance of premature aging.
  • Every 25 grams of added sugar increased intermediate-risk survivors’ chance of premature aging by 19%, and high-risk survivors’ chance of premature aging by 23%.
  • The impact of sugar-sweetened beverages on the chance of premature aging was especially strong for high-risk individuals.

Study Methods and Results

Dr. Lan and her colleagues identified 3,322 patients from the St. Jude Lifetime Cohort—a research study that monitors childhood cancer survivors throughout adulthood—who provided information about their typical diet using a food frequency questionnaire. The researchers extracted data about the survivors’ daily intake of total sugar, added sugar, and sugar-sweetened beverages.

For every 25 grams of sugar consumed per day, intermediate-risk survivors had a 24% increased chance of premature aging, and high-risk survivors had a 30% increased chance of premature aging. Every 25 grams of added sugar increased intermediate-risk survivors’ chance of premature aging by 19%, and high-risk survivors’ chance of premature aging by 23%.

The impact of sugar-sweetened beverages on the chance of premature aging was especially strong for high-risk individuals; those who consumed two or more drinks per day had a 6.71-fold higher chance of premature aging compared to those who consumed less than one drink per week. The increased risk related to sugar-sweetened beverages was 54% among intermediate-risk individuals.

Conclusions

The researchers hope that this study will set the stage for future research into the mechanisms by which sugar may contribute to the premature risk of aging, as well as how those processes may be accelerated in pediatric cancer survivors.

“Everyone should limit their sugar intake. Considering cancer survivors are more vulnerable, they should especially limit their sugar intake,” Dr. Lan stressed.

“Cutting down sugar is not always easy,” noted Dr. Park. “We need to find a way to help cancer survivors maintain healthier dietary habits to support their overall health.”

Disclosure: Funding for the research in this study was provided by the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital–Washington University St. Louis Implementation Sciences Collaborative and the National Institutes of Health.

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®.
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