It is one of the most disturbing links with gum disease: increased cancer risk. Unfortunately, it also seems that we’re understanding more and more about how prevalent this link is. Gum disease bacteria have been linked to colon cancer, breast cancer, and esophageal cancer.

And now researchers have linked gum disease bacteria to pancreatic cancer, probably the deadliest common cancer. It is the fourth most common cause of cancer death in the US. Some varieties of the cancer have a five year survival rate of only 5%, and even when detected early, the five-year survival rate is only 25%.

Bacteria Correlated with Cancer Risk

For research that they presented at the American Association for Cancer Research meeting, researchers from New York University tracked hundreds of people as part of a larger study on cancer risks. Participants were followed for nearly a decade, during which time some developed cancer and some did not.

To determine the risk factors for pancreatic cancer, researchers looked at data from 361 men and women who developed pancreatic cancer and compared it to data from 371 age-matched controls who didn’t develop pancreatic cancer. Among other data collection, mouthwash samples were taken from all participants, and researchers analyzed the presence of oral bacteria in those who developed pancreatic cancer and those who didn’t. They found that those who had Porphyromonas gingivalis had a 59% higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer, while those who had Aggregatibacter actinomycetemcomitans were at least 50% more likely to develop pancreatic cancer. Both these species have been linked to gum disease.

Mechanisms for Cancer Risk

How could gum disease cause pancreatic cancer? There are really three mechanisms that are thought to potentially link gum disease with various cancers. First, gum disease bacteria can travel throughout the body, and may reach places like the pancreas. But even if the bacteria don’t reach the pancreas, they can trigger systemic inflammation which can also increase cancer risk. Finally, gum disease bacteria have been shown to interfere with our body’s mechanisms for recognizing and fighting cancer.

Is This a Real Link?

However, we also have to ask if this link is real. There are many limitations of the study that have to be noted. First, researchers themselves admit their studies don’t show a causal link between oral bacteria and pancreatic cancer, just an association.

And we need to remember that this study has only been presented at a research conference, not published in a scientific journal, which means that the data and procedures haven’t been reviewed for accuracy yet. It may turn out that this connection doesn’t hold up to scientific scrutiny.

But what we do have enough data to suggest is that whether this specific link is true, there are definitely strong links between gum disease and serious health risks like cancer. To help protect your overall health, please call (310) 275-5325 for an appointment with a Beverly Hills periodontist at the office of Dr. Nicolas A. Ravon, DDS, MSD.