A 2016 oral health study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health compared saliva samples from 361 people who later developed pancreatic cancer with 371 samples from healthy subjects. They found that those with high levels of Porphyromonas gingivalis had a 59% greater risk of developing pancreatic cancer. P. gingivalis is one of the most common harmful oral bacteria and is strongly linked to periodontitis (gum disease).
The exact connection between pancreatic cancer and oral health is currently unknown. It’s much like the chicken or the egg debate on what came first. There is a proven association between gum disease and pancreatic cancer but a definite cause and effect relation is yet to be determined. Researchers speculate that chronic infection in the gums triggers inflammation throughout the body, which can potentially promote the growth of cancer.
This study builds on previous research that has associated gum disease with pancreatic cancer. Yet these findings are the first to show that significant oral bacteria levels can precede pancreatic cancer instead of developing after the cancer has appeared.
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.
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Contact Dr. William S. Neale DDS., MS. to discuss your concerns regarding your own oral health.