New research has confirmed that periodontal disease is tied to an elevated risk of several types of cancer, such as esophageal cancer, breast cancer, and gallbladder cancer, especially in mature women.
Periodontal disease, or gum disease, is also known as “periodontitis” and it is caused by infection and inflammation of the gums. It affects many adults and it is particularly common among seniors. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), gum disease affects over 70 percent of people aged 65 and above in the United States.
Although the CDC note that this disease affects more men than women, a significant proportion (38.4 percent) of the adult female U.S. population live with periodontitis.
Recent research has shown that women with gum disease are also more likely to develop breast cancer. However, until now, no studies had looked at the impact of periodontitis on cancer risk more generally.
Jean Wactawski-Wende, Ph.D., from the State University of New York at Buffalo – in collaboration with colleagues from other U.S. institutions – has, for the first time, investigated the association between gum disease and several types of cancer in women.
The study confirmed previous findings, but it also revealed previously undetected connections, such as the link between gum disease and gallbladder cancer. The findings are published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.
Periodontitis increases overall cancer risk
To understand the correlation between periodontal disease and the risk of cancer in women, the researchers worked with a cohort of 65,869 female participants from the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study. The women were aged between 54 and 86, and most of them were white, non-Hispanic.
The participants reported their gum disease diagnoses through questionnaires between 1999 and 2003, and they were monitored for cancer detection up until September 2013.
On average, the follow-up period for each participant was of 8.32 years. At the end of this period, 7,149 women had been diagnosed with a form of cancer.
The researchers found that women who had reported a diagnosis of periodontal disease had a 14 percent higher risk of developing any type of cancer.
Esophageal cancer was the type most frequently associated with gum disease, as women with periodontitis were more than three times likelier to develop it compared with women without oral health problems.
“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,” explains Dr. Wactawski-Wende.
Other types of cancer that exhibited a significant association with gum disease were lung cancer, gallbladder cancer, melanoma, or skin cancer, and breast cancer.