Increased Cancer Risk For Women With Gum Disease

This one is for the ladiessssssss

As if I needed another reason to preach about the benefits of maintaining a healthy mouth, a study by the American Association of Cancer Research states that post-menopausal women who have periodontal disease are at an increased risk of cancer. And with October being Breast Cancer Awareness month, this topic fits right into the conversation…

This finding is based on a study that examined over 65,000 women aged 54-86. The women self-reported if they had ever been diagnosed with periodontal disease over a 15 year follow up period. The results showed that those women with periodontal disease had a 14% higher risk of developing any type of cancer. The associations were especially high with esophageal and gall bladder cancer, and just behind them is an increased risk for breast cancer. However, no definitive relationship was made. Researchers are still unsure of the exact biologic process of how the bacteria actually cause a cancerous lesion, but there are a couple things they are sure of—First, it is well known that the bacteria which cause periodontal disease create inflammation in the body, even in very small amounts. Since the bacteria are sitting in the oral cavity, these strains are being continually inhaled and ingested throughout the day, and if they settle somewhere else in the body, can cause inflammation in that remote site. (There’s tons of literature on the role of periodontal disease in other co-morbidities such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and stroke—but that’s for another blog post!) Secondly, periodontal pathogens have been isolated from precancerous and cancerous lesions and have been shown to create a microenvironment that can promote cancerous growth.

A big limitation of the study? The percentage of patients with periodontal disease was self-reported, so the validity may be questionable. However, my guess is that the incidence of the periodontal disease is likely UNDER-reported in this study. Especially because we do not know the demographic or social background of these patients—or if they’ve ever even been to a dentist! They may have periodontal disease but have not been diagnosed, which would make the likelihood of the cancer-perio disease link even greater. On the flip side, both cancer and periodontal disease are both known to be more prevalent in older populations, so just getting older puts you at risk for both diseases and the reported potential relationship could be somewhat incidental. As the researchers pointed out, further studies are needed to prove a causal relationship between periodontal disease and cancer in older women.

The bottom line? Visit your dentist twice a year for regular check-ups and cleanings. Periodontal disease is something that can be diagnosed and managed. Good oral health leads to better overall health!