Snacking regularly on biscuits or cakes can significantly increase women’s chances of developing womb cancer, a British study shows.
Women who eat biscuits or cakes two to three times a week were 33% more likely to suffer womb cancer than those who rarely served such sweets.
Among those women indulging more than three times a week, the risk of developing womb tumors is increased with 42%.
However, their overall chances were still low as the odds of the average woman in the study developing uterus cancer during 18-plus years of the research were just over 1%.
The British researchers described the size of the effect as “modest” but said it warranted further investigation.
British cancer experts emphasized that it is too early to draw any firm conclusions.
The scientists from Stockholm’s Karolinska Institute explained the link between increased sugar levels and womb cancer.
The researchers studied data from thousands of women who, between 1987 and 1990, had answered dozens of questions on diet, lifestyle, weight and general health.
In 1997, those still alive answered an even more extensive battery of questions on their eating habits.
In 2008, the researchers matched up the women’s answers with their medical records, specifically looking for diagnosis of endometrial cancer – the most common form of womb cancer. They found 729 cases out of the 61,226 women studied.
There was little or no increase in risk from eating certain high-sugar items such as sweets, soft drinks, jam or marmalade.
But women who snacked frequently on cakes, buns or biscuits were up to 42% more likely to get uterus cancer than those who had them two times per month or less.
It is not clear why some sweets were linked to the womb cancer developing but others were not.
The study looked at how often volunteers ate such sweets but not specifically how much. However, those exceeding a total intake of more than 35 grams of sugar a day – equivalent to about seven teaspoons – faced a 36% increase in tumor risk.
The Swedish scientists from Stockholm’s Karolinska Institute said there are two mechanisms that high levels of sugar could raise the risk of the endometrial cancer. One is that increased quantity of sugar makes the body release more insulin, which has been shown to stimulate the growth of endometrial stromal cells, the lining of the womb
Another mechanism is that high levels of insulin may also increase levels of free estrogens through decreasing concentrations of circulating sex hormone–binding globulin, which has been shown to trigger the uncontrolled growth of cells, a key characteristic of cancer.
The Swedish study findings were published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.
Yinka Ebo, senior health information manager at Cancer Research UK, said keeping a healthy weight and staying physically active were the best ways to reduce womb cancer risk.
She added: “This study shows eating lots of sugar and certain sugary foods may increase the risk of womb cancer, but we would need to see these results repeated in other large studies like this before we can draw any firm conclusions.”
Endometrial cancer affects around 6,400 women a year in the UK and kills an estimated 1,000 annually.
Risk goes up with age, weight and with having a mother who had the disease. However, having children appears to lower the risk.