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Study: Sugar promotes tumor growth and metastasis in mouse model breast cancer

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This study is about:

How sugar may drive breast tumor growth and in a mouse model of breast cancer.  

Why is this study important?

This is an early step in understanding how high sugar intake might affect breast cancer growth and development.

Study findings: 

  1. Sucrose (table sugar) intake increased tumor growth and in a mouse model of breast cancer.

What does this mean for me?

This study was done in a mouse model of breast cancer.  Researchers expected that about half of the mice would develop breast cancer in the course of the experiment. While these types of early laboratory studies in mice are important for scientists trying to understand how cancer develops and spreads, they are not directly applicable to humans. It is important to remember that while the researchers tried to match the sugar levels the mice received to those found in Westernized diets, the rest of the mouse diet was not comparable to an average person’s diet.

The dangers of consuming excessive amounts of sugar are well established—the American Heart Association recommends that men and women consume no more than 37.5g and 25g of sugar, respectively. While this study does not conclusively show that sugar should be avoided or that excess sugar causes breast cancer to occur or spread, the overall health benefits of limiting sugar intake remain undisputed.

Posted 2/2/16


Jiang Y, Pan Y, Rhea PR, et al. “A Sucrose-Enriched Diet Promotes Tumorigenesis in Mammary Gland in Part Through the 12-Lipoxygenase Pathway.” Cancer Research (2016); 76(1): p. 24-28.

Miller PE, McKinnon RA, Krebs-Smith SM, et al. “Sugar-sweetened beverage consumption in the U.S.: novel assessment methodology.” American Journal of Preventive Medicine (2013); 45: p. 416–21.

This article is relevant for:

People diagnosed with breast cancer

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Study background:

Previous studies in humans have found associations between high sugar intake and breast cancer risk, including a recent study that found that increased consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages is a contributor to worldwide obesity, heart disease, and cancer. However, no study has directly studied whether a high-sugar diet can cause breast cancer to grow and/or affect breast cancer

In January 2016, Yan Jiang and colleagues at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center published a paper in the journal Cancer Research looked at breast cancer development, growth, and in mice with various amounts of table sugar in their diets. This is the first study to look at a direct effect of consuming sugar and breast cancer development using mouse models of breast cancer.

Researchers of this study wanted to know:

Whether sugar consumption led to breast tumor growth and in mouse models of breast cancer.

Population(s) looked at in the study:

This study used two well-established mouse models of breast cancer. The first is a model in which 50% of the mice are known to develop tumors after six months under normal conditions. The second is a model in which breast cancer metastasizes to the mouse lung. 

Study findings: 

Compared to mice than did not consume sugar, mice that did consume sugar:

  1. developed more tumors.
  2. had a higher number of lung metastases.
  3. had significant quantities of a protein known as 12-LOX—which provides a clue to cellular changes that might have caused tumors to grow in response to sugar. 


While this is the first study to look directly at the effect of sugar on tumor growth, more work is needed to determine whether the same effect occurs in humans. It is important to note that close to half of the mice in the study would have developed tumors after six months regardless of the amount of sugar they ate. While they were fed an amount of sugar that is equivalent to a Westernized diet, other nutrients in their diet were not the same as in a Westernized human diet.   


This study suggests that sugar may play a role in breast tumor growth and . It does not, however, implicate sugar or a particular amount of sugar as a cause of breast cancer. It is important to remember that this is early research in mice and more work needs to be done to understand this effect in humans. Although limiting sugar consumption is recommended for overall health, the data from this study does not provide enough evidence for people to stop consuming sugar entirely to reduce their risk of breast cancer development, growth, or

Aside from the results of this study, everybody should limit sugar consumption, as recommended by the American Heart Association; your own personal or family health history may dictate that you follow more specific health guidelines.  If you are concerned with how your diet affects your cancer or cancer risk, please discuss your options with your health care provider. 

Posted 2/2/16

Expert Guidelines
Expert Guidelines

Nutrition for people diagnosed with cancer

The National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) recommends the following for cancer survivors: 

  • Think about your food choices and amount of fruits, vegetables and unrefined grains you eat compared with red and processed meats, alcohol, and foods or drinks with added fat or sugar. 
  • Think about your eating habits, including portion size, snacking, how often you eat out and use of added fats or sugars.
  • All survivors should be encouraged to:
    • Make informed choices about food to ensure variety and adequate nutrient intake.
    • Limit refined sugars.
    • Eat a diet that is at least 50% plant-based, consisting mostly of vegetables, fruit and whole grains.
    • Track calorie intake; monitoring of calories is an effective way to manage weight.
    • Minimize alcohol intake to no more than one drink per day for a woman and two drinks per day for a man.
  • For patients desiring further dietary guidelines, the USDA approximate food plate volumes are:
    • Vegetables and fruits should comprise half the volume of food on the plate
    • Vegetables: 30% of plate; Fruits 20% of plate
    • Whole grains: 30% of plate
    • Protein: 20% of plate
  • Recommended sources of nutrients:
    • Fat: plant sources such as olive or canola oil, avocados, seeds and nuts, and fatty fish.
    • Carbohydrates: fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes.
    • Protein: poultry, fish, legumes, low-fat dairy foods, and nuts.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the United States Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion  and the American Institute for Cancer Research also publish expert guidelines on nutrition and health. 

Updated: 12/12/2021

Questions To Ask Your Doctor
Questions To Ask Your Doctor

  • I've have had breast cancer, what type of diet is best for me? 
  • I've had breast cancer, are there any foods I should avoid?
  • How can I lower my breast cancer risk?
  • How can I better control sugar in my diet?
  • Can you refer me to a nutritionist?

Open Clinical Trials
Open Clinical Trials

The following are studies focused on nutrition for people diagnosed with breast cancer. 

Visit our Featured Research Page and Research Search and Enroll Tool to find additional studies enrolling people with, or at high risk for cancer.

Updated: 05/31/2024

Find Experts
Find Experts

The following resources can help you locate a nutritionist near you or via telehealth

Finding nutritionists

  • You can find a registered dietician in your area through, the website for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Search for nutritionists by specialty, including "cancer," "weight management" and "heart health."

Related experts

  • The Livestrong at the YMCA program includes a free 12-week membership and fitness training with certified exercise experts. You can search by zip code for a program near you.  

Other ways to find experts

  • Register for the FORCE Message Boards and post on the Find a Specialist board to connect with other people who share your situation. 
  • The National Cancer Institute (NCI)-Designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers have specialists to manage the symptoms and side effects of cancer prevention or treatment. 
  • FORCE partners with Savor Health® to provide free, personalized, evidence-based nutrition support 24/7 and “on-demand" through their text-based Intelligent Nutrition Assistant (Ina®). You can subscribe here


Updated: 11/20/2023

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