Gum Disease :: Gum disease linked to pancreatic cancer

Gum disease, tooth loss or periodontal disease, inflammation of the gums caused by bacterial infection that leads to tooth loss, was shown to be associated with increased risk of pancreatic cancer in two studies. In one study, all subjects were smokers, and in the other, no adjustment was made for smoking, a known risk factor for pancreatic cancer.

Researchers found that men who had periodontal disease had a 63 percent higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer than men with healthy teeth and gums. Men who lost teeth within the past four years were especially likely to develop pancreatic cancer, reported in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

This is a questionnaire-based prospective study of pancreatic cancer incidence and history of periodontal disease among male health professionals that includes adjustment for smoking status. While the study does not definitively show that gum disease causes cancer, the researchers say the evidence is strong. They filtered out other factors known to be linked with pancreatic cancer, such as smoking and obesity.

History of periodontal disease was independently associated with an increased risk of pancreatic cancer overall and in never smokers; recent tooth loss was associated with additional increased risk. The association may be due to systemic inflammation and/or increased levels of carcinogenic compounds generated by bacteria in the oral cavity of individuals with periodontal disease.

Pancreatic cancer is the fourth-leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. It will kill 95 percent of the 32,000 people who get it this year, according to the American Cancer Society.

“Individuals with periodontal disease and poor oral hygiene have elevated levels of oral bacteria and have much higher nitrosamine levels in their oral cavity,” the researchers wrote.

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