Cancer patient on mission to educate about dangers of sugar

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Researchers are closely examining whether excess sugar can fuel the growth of cancer. (KABC)

A local woman gets shocking news at the doctor's office.

She now wants others to use her experience to live healthier lives.

Shannon Sylvain, 33, is on a mission to educate others about excessive sugar in our diets.

At the age of 23, Sylvain was in a doctor's office, asking about a strange symptom.

She had blood in her stools.

Sylvain said her doctor at the time told her she was too young to have anything serious.

But two years ago, she experienced something unimaginable.

Her doctors told her she had incurable stage four colon cancer.

"What happened to stage one, two or three. I'm just stage four," Sylvain said, "I'm young. I'm healthy."

She thought she was healthy, but knew her diet could be better.

"I was a sugar addict. You know," she said. "It was my thing."

After surgery, Sylvain said doctors gave her little direction as to what to eat or avoid.

"Those things are huge because when you're at the place where you'll do anything to save your life that's when you should be having those conversations," she said.

What is the connection between excess sugar and colon cancer?

Sylvain believes it contributed.

She did some research and learned cancers flourish in sugar environments.

She started "Brown Sugar Rehab" - a site to teach people, especially communities of color, about the dangers of hidden sugars.

"It's in your salad dressing, in your milk. It's in everything!" she said.

Scientists are closely examining the sugar-cancer connection.

Researcher Michael Goran co-directs the USC Diabetes and Obesity Center.

"It can feed cancer cells. Cancer cells are very dependent on glucose for energy and can use it quite rapidly," he said.

He said studies show people of color may be more susceptible to sugar's damaging effects.

Goran said, "This could one reason to show why there's higher diabetes rates in African-American men and women."

He added Latinos have a genetic predisposition to fatty liver disease.

And while the research on sugar and cancer is still early, it's well known Americans eat far too much.

"The average American is consuming 140 pounds of sugar per year," he said.

That's about 30 teaspoons of sugar a day.

The World Health Organization advises women to consume no more than six teaspoons of added sugar per day.

For men, it's nine teaspoons.

Sylvain aims to eat even less.

Switching to a plant-based diet has helped her cut back and she feels even stronger in her fight against colon cancer.

"I think everyone's story is different. But for me it's what improved my health drastically," Sylvain said.
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