Drinking two or more sugar-filled drinks per day may raise your risk of developing bowel cancer before the age of 50, at least in women, a new study shows.
The research, which was published in the journal Gut, found each daily serving was associated with a 16 per cent higher risk, with that raising to 32 per cent among teens.
Researchers at Washington University in St Louis analysed dietary and health records of nearly 100,000 women who were tracked between 1991 and 2015 as part of the US Nurses' Health II study.
More than 95,000 women reported their sugar-sweetened beverage consumption levels every four years, and about 41,000 also had information on levels in adolescence based on prior studies.
Scientists found women who consumed more than 437 millilitres of sugary drinks a day were twice as likely to be diagnosed with early onset bowel cancer than those who drank less than 236ml.
There were 109 cases of early-onset bowel cancer found among participants, meaning they were diagnosed before they turned 50.
Sugary drinks, including soft and fruit-flavoured drinks, as well as energy beverages, have been linked to rising rates of obesity and Type 2 diabetes in the past.
“Our findings reinforce the public health importance of limiting sugar-sweetened beverage intake for better health outcomes,” researchers wrote.
Switching to artificially sweetened drinks, coffee or milk led to a lower risk of disease, the study also found.
"We just can't be sure whether the observed association between sugary drinks and bowel cancer under the age of 50 is one of cause and effect," said Kevin McConway, an emeritus professor of applied statistics at the Open University, to The Guardian.
Among the women who were diagnosed with the cancer, only 16 reported drinking more than 437ml of sugar drinks per day, and other lifestyle factors that have been said to raise risk of the disease – such as eating red and processed meat or drinking alcohol and smoking – would need to be properly accounted for.
Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women each year in the US, excluding skin cancer.
In the UK, it is the fourth most common cancer, and the second biggest cancer killer, according to Bowel Cancer UK, with more than 42,000 people diagnosed annually.