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Study links poor oral health to pancreatic cancer

According to a recent study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health, men with a history of gum (periodontal) disease could be at increased risk of developing pancreatic cancer.

Researchers from Harvard, the University of San Juan and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute analyzed data from more than 51,000 male subjects over a 16-year period. The purpose was to determine if gum disease or tooth loss may be related to pancreatic cancer. After adjusting for age, smoking history, diabetes, obesity, diet and other potential contributors to pancreatic cancer, the reviewers found that men with a history of gum disease had a 64 percent increased risk of pancreatic cancer than men without a history of gum disease.

Nobody knows why gum disease may be linked to pancreatic cancer. Although the study showed an association between gum disease and pancreatic cancer, a definite cause and effect relationship was not established. Researchers speculate that chronic infection in the gums triggers inflammation throughout the body, which can potentially promote the growth of cancer.

Further research needed

While the study claimed that gum disease or tooth loss may increase pancreatic cancer risk through "plausible biological mechanisms," the American Dental Association (ADA) cautions that further research is required to validate this association. The ADA also says that the role that diabetes played in the results also requires further investigation, because diabetes is associated with both periodontal disease and pancreatic cancer.

Pancreatic cancer often goes undetected until an advanced stage, making effective treatment difficult. The disease is commonly linked with tobacco smoking, age or family history. And, now, there may be a link to gum disease.

Today, more than 70 percent of the adult U.S. population has some form of gum disease. Maintaining oral health through regular dental check-ups and good oral hygiene is essential to overall good health.

Periodontal disease, cancer may be linked in men. American Dental Association.