History of Gum Disease Linked to Increased Risk of Cancer

The risk of gallbladder cancer was highest in women with a history of periodontal disease.

Postmenopausal women with a history of gum disease have an increased risk of cancer, new study findings indicate.

Some form of periodontal disease affects an estimated 47% of individuals 30 years and older in the United States. According to the CDC, periodontal disease increases with age, with 70% of adults 65 years and older with the disease.

But new findings show that women with a history of gum disease have a 14% increased risk of overall cancer.

The national study, published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, is the first of its kind to include US women and the first to focus on older women specifically, according to the authors. Furthermore, it is the first to identify an association between periodontal disease and risk of gallbladder cancer in women or men.

“Our study was sufficiently large and detailed enough to examine not just overall risk of cancer among older women with periodontal disease, but also to provide useful information on the number of cancer-specific sites,” said senior author Jean Wactawski-Wende.

The authors evaluated 65,869 postmenopausal women enrolled in the ongoing national prospective Women’s Health Initiatives study, which is designed to examine factors affecting disease and death risk in older American women.

Within the follow-up health questionnaire, participants were asked whether a dentist or dental hygienist ever told them they had periodontal or gum disease.

The results of the study showed women with a history of gum disease had a 14% increased risk of overall cancer. There were 7249 cancers that occurred in the participants, of which, 2416 were breast cancer.

“There is increasing evidence that periodontal disease may be linked to an increased cancer risk and this association warrants further investigation,” first author Ngozi Nwizu.

Of the different cancer types, the risk associated with periodontal disease was highest for esophageal cancer.

“The esophagus is in close proximity to the oral cavity, and so periodontal pathogens may more easily gain access to and infect the esophageal mucosa and promote cancer risk at that site,” Wactawski-Wende said.”

The risk for gallbladder cancer was highest among women with a history of gum disease.

“Chronic inflammation has also been implicated in gallbladder cancer, but there has been no data on the association between periodontal disease and gallbladder risk,” Nwizu said. “Ours is the first study to report on such an association.”

Nwizu expanded on the significance of their findings. “Esophageal cancer ranks among the most deadly cancers and its etiology is not well known, but chronic inflammation has been implicated.

“Certain periodontal bacteria have been shown to promote inflammation even in tiny amounts, and these bacteria have been isolated from many organ systems and some cancers including esophageal cancers. It is important to establish if periodontal disease is an important risk of esophageal cancer, so that appropriate preventive measures can be promoted.”

The authors noted that periodontal disease was also associated with total cancer risk among current and former smokers.

The findings are important because periodontal disease continues to increase as individuals live longer.

“The elderly are more disproportionately affected by periodontal disease than other age groups, and for most types of cancers, the process of carcinogenesis usually occurs over many years,” Nwizu said. “So the adverse effects of periodontal disease are more likely to be seen among postmenopausal women, simply because of their older age.”