Cancer, sugar, insulin are all related

As you likely know, the four most common cancers in the U.S. are prostate, breast, lung, and colorectal cancer. For the year 2014, it is estimated by the American Cancer Society that there will be the following number of new cases for each of these all-too-common cancers: prostate = 233,000, breast = 232,670, lung = 224,210, and colorectal cancer = 136,830. In Michigan alone, the 2014 estimated number of new cases of these common cancers is as follows: prostate = 8,740, lung = 8,090, breast = 7,660, and colorectal cancer = 4,570.

Note that lung cancer is the third most common cancer in the United States, but the second most common cancer is Michigan. Of course, this is due to the number of Michigan citizens who still choose to smoke. It is important for smokers to also be aware that in smokers, the risk of prostate cancer goes up 22 percent, colorectal cancer goes up 18 percent, and breast cancer goes up 16 percent.

Of course, this is due to the dramatic negative impact smoking has on the human immune system. This also explains why smokers get more colds, flu, pneumonia, and nearly all infectious illnesses. Further, the predicted life expectancy of a smoker is 14 years less than that of a non-smoker. Of course, be certain to stay away from all that very dangerous second-hand smoke.

OK, Doc, let us now get to the topic for today and tell us why sugar is so bad if a person has ever been diagnosed with any cancer. Here is how this happens: Insulin, released into our blood stream when we eat any sugar, strongly encourages all cell growth, including cancer cells.

Therefore, with any current, or previous cancer diagnosis, it is very important to choose to limit the amount of refined sugar you eat. This is because when you eat a lot of sugar, your body produces a lot of insulin.

Specifically, insulin is that natural substance produced by our pancreas in response to eating sugar. Insulin tells our cells to grow. In simple terms, insulin will increase cell growth in our body.

For healthy cells, this may be a good thing, but if one is overweight, obese, or has a cancer diagnosis, it is not a good thing. Of course, the cells in our body grow, divide, die, and are replaced as part of the natural process of living.

However, cancer cells will also be encouraged to grow more when our bodies produce too much insulin. So while some insulin in the body is normal, excess insulin can certainly encourage cancer cells to grow more, which is absolutely not a good thing.

This is the downside of insulin: Our bodies need it to function, but it’s unhealthy if we make too much of it from eating too much sugar, leading to excess cell growth with resulting overweight, obesity, and Type 2 diabetes. Be aware that excess sugar in our diet will cause our bodies to produce too much insulin and this is certainly not good for overall health and will encourage cancer cell growth.

Bottom line -too much sugar will cause our bodies to make too much insulin. It is the excess insulin, from eating too much refined sugar, that can be a problem for spurring cancer cell growth. Of course, we all should avoid consuming excess refined sugar in our diet.

It is always very important to limit your refined sugar, and it is especially important if you have any previous or current cancer diagnosis.

Editor’s note: Dr. Jim Surrell, author of “SOS (Stop Only Sugar) Diet,” has his practice at the Digestive Health Clinic at Marquette General Health System. Requests for health topics for this column are encouraged. Contact Dr. Surrell by email at