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What Is the Link Between Gums and Cancer?

A prospective study found that people with infected gums were more likely to develop lung or colorectal cancer.

Gum disease has been linked to heart problems. Other conditions that have been associated with periodontal inflammation include osteoporosis, pneumonia and rheumatoid arthritis. Now results from the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study (ARIC) show that people with serious gum disease are 24 percent more likely to develop cancer than those with healthy gums (Michaud et al, Journal of the National Cancer Institute, online, Jan. 12, 2018).

Gums and Cancer:

The study included nearly 7,500 older people who had a dental examination as part of the study. This allowed for accurate measurement of periodontal disease.

During the following 15 years, 1,648 of the participants were diagnosed with cancer. 547 of them died from cancer. Lung cancer was twice as likely among people with infected gums as among volunteers with healthy gum tissue. Colorectal cancer was also 80 percent more common among those without teeth or with gum disease. Although that is a striking finding, it is not statistically significant.

Breast and prostate cancer did not seem to be linked to periodontitis. Neither were blood cancers.

Why Might Infected Gums Be Linked to Cancer?

The scientists note that “the exact mechanism linking periodontitis to cancer is not established.” Other researchers have noted that colon cancer tissues contain bacteria also found in pockets of gum inflammation. The inflammation resulting from gum infections might contribute to the initiation or growth of digestive tract tumors, but the connection is still unclear. In addition, no one understands exactly how infected gums would increase the susceptibility to lung cancer. To summarize, the investigators call for additional research to determine whether prevention and prompt treatment of gum disease could reduce the likelihood of certain cancers.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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