Drinking two sugary soft drinks every day could almost double the chance of pancreatic cancer, warns a new study, landing a fresh blow on soft drinks makers over health.
At least two fizzy or syrup-based drinks, such as squash, per day increased risk by 90 per cent, the study found.
Consumers who added sugar to any food or drink at least five times a day also had a 70 per cent higher risk of pancreatic cancer than those who added no sugar.
It is thought to be the first time scientists have found a direct link between sugary food and drink and pancreatic cancer, although high sugar intake was already considered a risk factor.
The study, based on a dietary survey and conducted by researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, threatens to further hamper soft drinks firms' efforts to target consumer health trends.
Researchers used a dietary survey of 80,000 people, in good health, from 1997. The group was monitored until June 2005, by which time 131 had developed pancreatic cancer.
Critics say that studies based on dietary surveys can often be unreliable because they do not always account for other factors.
"It was a very large study, but it's only the first one and so of course we will need more to be done," Susanna Larsson, who led the study, told BeverageDaily.com. She called on soft drinks firms to reduce the sugar content of their drinks.
Scientists believe the risk of developing pancreatic cancer rises when the pancreas produces higher levels of insulin. Eating a lot of sugar is a well-known way of increasing insulin production.
If follow-up studies were to support the Karolinska findings, even non-carbonated soft drinks sectors, traditionally viewed as healthier than their fizzy counterparts, could come under fire.
The rapidly growing sports drinks market, spearheaded by Coca-Cola's Powerade and PepsiCo's Gatorade, could be a prime target. Several reports and health campaigners have criticised these drinks for containing high levels of sugar.
"I think the effect from these drinks would be the same," said Larsson.
Evidence that sugary food and drink increases cancer risk would also strengthen the hand of governments looking for sugar reductions in a wide range of food and drinks.
Authorities in the UK have hinted they may target sugar reductions in products in the same way they have pressured firms to cut salt content.