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NewsBites December 2018 Issue

Gum Disease May Raise Cancer Risk


Image Zhenyakot | Getty Images

Keeping teeth and gums healthy could reduce cancer risk.

Periodontitis, advanced gum disease caused by bacterial infection that damages the soft tissue and bone that support the teeth, may be linked to higher risk of certain cancers, according to a new study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. The study, led by Tufts’ epidemiologist Dominique Michaud, ScD, analyzed data from dental exams of nearly 7,500 black and white older adults, and compared periodontal disease severity with incident cancers and cancer deaths during an average of 15 years of follow-up.

Participants with severe periodontitis had a 24 percent higher risk of developing cancer, and those with no teeth at baseline had a 28 percent higher risk, compared with those with no or mild gum disease. People with severe periodontal disease had more than double the risk of developing lung cancer, and elevated risks were also noted for colorectal cancer. Participants who had lost all their teeth to gum disease had 80 percent higher colon cancer risk. Because such associations can be caused by a history of smoking, the authors also looked only at people who had never smoked; even in this subgroup, those with severe periodontitis had a significantly higher cancer risk than those with no periodontitis. Associations were stronger among white than black participants, with the exception of lung and colorectal cancers, where a similar association was seen in both groups. No associations were observed for breast, prostate, or lymphatic cancer risk. The researchers suggest additional research to see if preventing and treating periodontal disease can reduce cancer incidence. Meanwhile, these findings reinforce the importance of seeing a dentist regularly to keep your teeth and gums healthy.

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