Are cakes and cancer connected in any way?

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In an article published in a leading online portal, cakes have been implicated in causing cancer. Find out if it is really true.

Mums and dads, I love cakes. My wife is a cupcake queen. Needless to say, I do sample them frequently. So imagine my horror when I read a headline on a leading online portal - 'The scary connection between cakes and cancer." I put down my cupcake and continued reading.

Turns out, the article, though informative, did not show any link between cakes and cancer. It was just one of those articles with a catchy headline. You might argue that the headline of this article is similar. There is a difference. The objective of this article is to investigate if there is indeed a connection between cakes and cancer.

The short answer is, it is complicated and we do not know yet. That said, let us look into the study discussed by that article.

Cakes and cancer: the role of sugar in cancer

According to a study conducted by the scientists at The University of Texas at Dallas, some types of cancer are more dependent on sugar than other types of cancer. Don't forget to read the "sugar" part later on in the article.

The team looked into data from a large cancer database. It was found that a particular type of protein, GLUT 1 responsible for transporting glucose to cells was high in one type of lung cancer — the Squamous Cell Carcinoma. A few experiments confirmed that the protein is indeed very active in this type of cancer. In fact, it is more active than adenocarcinoma of the lung, another type of lung cancer. 

However, this does not mean that eating sugar causes squamous cell lung cancer. And the same researchers are further exploring the link between the two. So, I, as a doctor, draw two conclusions from the evidence at hand. 

  1. There is no strong evidence yet to suggest that a cake, or for that matter sugar causes cancer.
  2. There is a need for research to prove if sugar indeed worsens already existing cancer.

What exactly is cancer?

Cancer Are cakes and cancer connected in any way?

I am going to simplify cancer a bit. Our body is made up of cells. Each cell has a finite number of days/months/years to live after which, it undergoes a programmed cell death, also known as apoptosis. The cells may die prematurely in the event of some injury. In any case, most of the cells are replaced by new cells of similar type. This is how the number of cells in that tissue remains fairly constant. If a tissue needs extra work, either the number of cells or the size of the individual cells increases. This is controlled by a feedback mechanism. 

Now, imagine some rogue cells that refuse to follow orders. They refuse to die and instead end up growing in number. They also refuse to look like normal cells due to the changes inside them. These cells highjack the systems of the body, form new blood vessels to feed themselves and start consuming energy meant for the normal functioning of the body. This may be caused due to mutation, carcinogens, or for no reason as all. This is, simply put, what cancer is. 

Not all cancers are solid though. There are some "liquid tumours" — the cancers of the blood and immune system. These also cause a lot of distress to the body, and are, at times, life-threatening. This is an extremely simplified explanation. In reality, there are more than 20 different types of cancers and each requires a different approach. An old professor used to say, "Everything under the Sun including the Sun is carcinogenic." 

Sugars and cancer

There are a lot of articles on the internet that state that a particular food item may cause cancer. I would take that with a pinch of salt. (Some may even say that salt causes cancer. Well I ignore that). When you come across any article talking about sugar, you have to understand that most of the normal cells in the body require sugar for energy. Sugars, in this context, refer to carbohydrates. Glucose, Fructose, Sucrose, Galactose, all are sugars. These provide energy to the body to different degrees. So they are essential for the body. 

Cancer Research UK is one of the biggest names in cancer research worldwide. The organisation funds research and helps the government develop the policy to tackle cancer. One of the articles published by them debunks cancer myths. It talks about the lack of evidence to support the case of sugar causing cancer. However, the article is a bit dated. So I would watch out for their reaction about the research by the scientists at the University of Texas, Dallas. However, moderation is the key.

So, mums, cancer may not be caused by cakes or pastries for that matter. However, to quote the good folks at Cancer Research, UK, 

"When it comes to offering diet tips to reduce cancer risk, research shows that the same boring healthy eating advice still holds true. Fruit, vegetables, fibre, white meat and fish are good. Too much fat, salt, sugar, red or processed meat and alcohol are less so."

So mums and dads, don't shun the simple pleasure in life aka cake. Just make sure that your kid's, and for that matter even your diet is balanced. 

 

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