Gum Disease Linked to Pancreatic Cancer

Take Care of Your Mouth to Reduce Cancer Risk

Close-up of young man brushing his teeth. Credit: UniversalImagesGroup / Contributor / Getty Images

Could gum disease increase your risk of pancreatic cancer? The evidence that this is the case has been growing, to the point of being considered well-established by researchers. Take care of your mouth to reduce your risk of this deadly form of cancer.

What is Gum Disease? Gingivitis and Periodontitis

Gum Disease is an infection in the gums surrounding the teeth. Gum disease is also one of the main causes of tooth loss among adults.

There are two major stages of gum disease: Gingivitis and periodontitis. The long-term inflammation from these conditions may be what increases the risk of pancreatic cancer.

Harvard Study Links Gum Disease to Pancreatic Cancer

A 2007 study from Harvard linked gum disease, also known as periodontal disease, to pancreatic cancer. Pancreatic cancer has been named as the fourth leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, more than 30,000 Americans are expected to lose their lives to pancreatic cancer each year.

While there have been many studies documenting the link between poor oral hygiene and other medical problems, such as heart disease and stroke, this was the first study to find a solid link that gum disease could actually increase the risk of pancreatic cancer.

This particular study began in 1986 and documented over 50,000 men working in health professions. Between 1986 and 2002, researchers verified 216 cases of pancreatic cancer, with 67 of those cases having periodontal disease. In summary, after adjusting for factors such as diabetes, smoking and others, the findings showed that the men with gum disease were 63% more likely to develop pancreatic cancer by rate of comparison than men that did not have gum disease.

Dr. Dominique Michaud, assistant professor of epidemiology at Harvard, states that one possible reason for the link between gum disease and pancreatic cancer could be that “Individuals with periodontal disease have elevated serum biomarkers of systemic inflammation, such as C-reactive protein, and these may somehow contribute to the promotion of cancer cells.” Dr. Michaud also offers another explanation that a person with periodontal disease has increased levels of carcinogens and oral bacteria in their mouth.

Further Studies Confirm Link Between Gum Disease and Pancreatic Cancer Risk

The evidence for the link continues to grow. A 2016 study of over 200,000 people in Taiwan found a significantly positive association between periodontal disease and the risk of pancreatic cancer, but mostly in those aged 65 years and older. The study found this risk was increased independently of other factors such as diabetes, pancreatitis, alcohol use and smoking.

While the biggest suspicion is that the inflammation from gum disease sets up an environment for pancreatic cancer to develop, studies have also found links between specific mouth bacteria and pancreatic cancer.

These are being further explored.

Sources:

Michaud DS, Joshipura K, Giovannucci E, et al. "A prospective study of periodontal disease and pancreatic cancer in US male health professionals." J Natl Cancer Inst. 2007;99(2):171–5.

Chang JS, Tsai CR, Chen LT, Shan YS. "Investigating the Association Between Periodontal Disease and Risk of Pancreatic Cancer." Pancreas. 2016 Jan;45(1):134-41.

Farrell JJ, Zhang L, Zhou H, et al. "Variations of oral microbiota are associated with pancreatic diseases including pancreatic cancer." Gut. 2012;61(4):582–8.>

Constantinos P. Zambirinis, et. al. "Pancreatic Cancer, Inflammation and Microbiome," Cancer J. 2014 May-Jun; 20(3): 195–202.

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