Drinking two or more soft drinks per week nearly doubles a person's risk of developing pancreatic cancer, concludes a huge new study released Monday.

Researchers examined the health risks among those who drink sugar-sweetened carbonated drinks, versus those who don't consume these beverages.

Lead researcher Mark Pereira of the Division of Epidemiology and Community Health at the University of Minnesota led a team who followed the health of 60,524 men and women in Singapore. They calculated how much juice and soda the participants drank on average and followed them for 14 years to see how many developed cancer.

Over that period, researchers found:

  • • 140 of the volunteers developed pancreatic cancer
  • • They found an 87 per cent higher risk of developing cancer for those who drank two or more soft drinks per week
  • • No link was found between drinking fruit juice and developing pancreatic cancer

Pancreatic cancer is one of the most deadly forms of cancer, and only five per cent of people who are diagnosed are known to survive five years later, according to the American Cancer Society. About 3,900 Canadians were diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last year. Globally, that number is about 230,000.

Pereira speculates that the sugar in the soft drinks affects the control of insulin, which controls sugar levels in the blood and which is produced in the pancreas

"The high levels of sugar in soft drinks may be increasing the level of insulin in the body, which we think contributes to pancreatic cancer cell growth," Pereira said in a statement.

He points out that while sugar may be to blame, those who drink sugar-sweetened soda often have other poor health habits.

While the study focused on an Asian population, Pereira said he thought the findings would likely apply to Western countries as well.

"Singapore is a wealthy country with excellent health care. Favourite pastimes are eating and shopping, so the findings should apply to other Western countries," he said.

The study appears in the journal, Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.

The soft drink industry disputed the findings.

"The [study] authors are skipping several steps in trying to connect soft drinks with pancreatic cancer, including an allegation regarding an increase in insulin production," Richard Adamson, a consultant to the American Beverage Association and former scientific director of the NCI, said in a statement.

"The fact remains that soft drinks do not cause cancer, nor do any authoritative bodies, such as NCI, name soft drinks as a risk factor for pancreatic cancer," he added.

"You can be a healthy person and enjoy soft drinks. The key to a healthy lifestyle is balance -- eating a variety of foods and beverages in moderation along with getting regular physical activity," Adamson added.

Jennifer Sygo, a nutritionist with the Cleveland Clinic, says there isn't the same level of research available for sugar as there is for salt. But she points out guidelines by the American Heart Association, which recommends:

  • • Women should not consume more than 25 grams of added sugar a day (6.5 teaspoons)
  • • Men should not consume more than 38 grams of added sugar a day (9.5 teaspoons)

For those who just need their sugar fix, she recommends a cup of juice a day, then water or a Perrier if you need some carbonation.