You know sugar can make you pack on the pounds, isn’t great for your skin or your teeth and offers little in the way of nutritional value. But does it cause cancer?

We checked in with Jorge J. Nieva, MD, associate professor of clinical medicine at the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center of Keck Medicine of USC for the answer.

Does Sugar Cause Cancer?

It’s not time to panic just yet, sugarholics. While Dr. Nieva decidedly does not give eating sugar a green light, he says that it’s a myth that eating too much will cause cancer. He explains, “Cancer is not touching the sugar that’s in your stomach, it’s touching the sugar that’s in your bloodstream.” For most of us, that amount doesn’t change, even if you binge on cupcakes, chocolate, or jellybeans. “The amount of sugar that’s in your blood stream is tightly regulated by your pancreas and that stays in the range of about 80 to 120 most of the time, regardless of what you eat,” he says. So even if you do indulge in that piece of chocolate cake, your blood sugar levels won’t change dramatically. (One caveat: If you have diabetes, your diet does have a direct affect on your blood sugar levels, which is why regular monitoring is important.)

Some patients who have already developed advanced cancer have also subscribed to the thought that once they have cancer sugar must especially be avoided — which is a myth. This belief is problematic because many cancer patients have trouble with too much weight loss and they already don’t consume enough calories in their diet. These patients are literally starving, and it’s not the time to restrict their diet, which will only make their weight loss, muscle atrophy and overall weakness worse.

But Don’t Break out the Rainbow Sprinkles…

Sugar isn’t off the hook completely. While eating more sugar in and of itself doesn’t cause cancer, eating too much of it can make you pack on the pounds. Being obese does increase your risk for certain cancers, including breast cancer, as does being diabetic, which is also more likely if you are overweight.

If you’re reaching for that donut for breakfast instead of a fiber-packed bowl of oatmeal topped with fresh berries, morning after morning, clearly that’s not good for you either. There is ample evidence that following a Mediterranean diet with plenty of whole grains, fruits and veggies and healthy fats can cut your cancer risk.

How Can You Cut Your Risk of Cancer?

Many, but certainly not all cancers, are the result of lifestyle choices. The best ways to reduce your risk of cancer and stay healthy overall is to not smoke, stay active and eat a healthy diet. Treatments are more affective the earlier the cancer is caught so you should be proactive about getting appropriate screening tests for your age, gender and family history.

If you’re in the Southern California area and are in search of a cancer specialist, call (800)USC-CARE (800-872-2273) or visit www.cancer.keckmedicine.org/request-an-appointment/ to schedule an appointment.

By Anne Fritz