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Cancer Cells Love Sugar; That’s How PET Scans for Cancer Work

Summary:
Last week, a friend who is a cancer survivor noted that people are given radioactive sugar before a positron emission tomography (PET) scan. Why does this work? It is because cancer cells love sugar. Here is how “Oncology” section of the current version of the Wikipedia article on “Positron emission tomography” says it (glucose is blood sugar):PET scanning with the tracer fluorine-18 (18F) fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG), called FDG-PET, is widely used in clinical oncology. This tracer is a glucose analog that is taken up by glucose-using cells and phosphorylated by hexokinase (whose mitochondrial form is greatly elevated in rapidly growing

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Cancer Cells Love Sugar; That’s How PET Scans for Cancer Work

Last week, a friend who is a cancer survivor noted that people are given radioactive sugar before a positron emission tomography (PET) scan. Why does this work? It is because cancer cells love sugar. Here is how “Oncology” section of the current version of the Wikipedia article on “Positron emission tomography” says it (glucose is blood sugar):

PET scanning with the tracer fluorine-18 (18F) fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG), called FDG-PET, is widely used in clinical oncology. This tracer is a glucose analog that is taken up by glucose-using cells and phosphorylated by hexokinase (whose mitochondrial form is greatly elevated in rapidly growing malignant tumors). … FDG is trapped in any cell that takes it up until it decays, since phosphorylated sugars, due to their ionic charge, cannot exit from the cell. This results in intense radiolabeling of tissues with high glucose uptake, such as the normal brain, liver, kidneys, and most cancers. As a result, FDG-PET can be used for diagnosis, staging, and monitoring treatment of cancers, particularly in Hodgkin's lymphoma, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and lung cancer.

I have a simple piece of advice: Don’t give cancer cells too much of what they love. And anyone can have cancer cells without knowing it. Just because they aren’t making obvious trouble yet doesn’t mean they won’t. If you don’t feed them lavishly, they are less likely to grow and multiply.

For annotated links to other posts on diet and health, see:

Miles Kimball
Miles Kimball is Professor of Economics and Survey Research at the University of Michigan. Politically, Miles is an independent who grew up in an apolitical family. He holds many strong opinions—open to revision in response to cogent arguments—that do not line up neatly with either the Republican or Democratic Party.

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