Gum Disease Tied to Cancer Risk in Older Women

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Periodontal disease in older women is associated with an increased risk for cancer, a new study concludes.

Previous studies have suggested a link, but this new analysis, in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, offers additional evidence on specific cancers.

Researchers followed more than 65,000 women, average age 68, participating in a larger health study. They gathered information on periodontal disease with self-reports, and over an average of eight years of follow-up, they found 7,149 cancers.

The study controlled for race, age, family history of cancer, smoking and other variables. Gum disease was associated with an overall 14 percent increased risk for cancer, and a 12 percent increase even in women who never smoked.

The increased risk from periodontal disease was highest for esophageal and gallbladder cancers, with increased risk also for cancers of the breast and lung and for melanoma of the skin. But gum disease was not associated with cancers of the pancreas, liver or lower digestive tract.

Although the exact mechanism is unknown, gum pathogens could reach sites in the body through swallowed saliva, causing inflammation in other organs, the authors suggest.

“We know that treating gum disease prevents tooth loss,” said the senior author, Jean Wactawski-Wende, a professor of epidemiology at the University at Buffalo. “It could also be helpful in managing cancer and other systemic diseases. That’s a simple public health message.”