BUFFALO, N.Y., USA: New study findings indicate that postmenopausal women with a history of periodontal disease are more prone to develop cancer. Examining data from 65,869 women between the ages of 54 and 86, women who had reported a diagnosis of periodontal disease had a 14 per cent higher risk of developing any type of cancer.
The study is one of the first to focus on an older age group to examine periodontal disease as a risk factor for cancer. “Our study was sufficiently large and detailed enough to examine not just overall risk of cancer among older women with periodontal disease, but also to provide useful information on a number of cancer-specific sites,” explained Prof. Jean Wactawski-Wende, the study's senior author and dean of the University at Buffalo’s (UB) School of Public Health and Health Professions.
Overall, 7,149 cancers were identified in the study group, the majority of which were breast cancers (2,416 cases). When looking at different types of cancers, a significant association with periodontal disease was found for lung cancer, gallbladder cancer, melanoma (skin cancer), and breast cancer. A weak association was also found for stomach cancer.
The highest risk associated with periodontal disease was found to be esophageal cancer. Women with periodontitis were more than three times more likely to develop esophageal cancer compared to women without the oral health condition. Although the underlying reasons for the connection are not fully understood yet, Wactawski-Wende reasoned that: “The esophagus is in close proximity to the oral cavity, and so periodontal pathogens may more easily gain access to and infect the esophageal mucosa and promote cancer risk at that site.”
A new discovery was the link between periodontitis and gallbladder cancer. Lead author Dr. Ngozi Nwizu, who worked on the research while completing her residency in oral and maxillofacial pathology in UB's School of Dental Medicine, said: “Chronic inflammation has also been implicated in gallbladder cancer, but there has been no data on the association between periodontal disease and gallbladder risk. Ours is the first study to report on such an association.”
According to the researchers, the findings for this particular age group offer a window into the disease in a population that continues to increase as people live longer lives. “The elderly are more disproportionately affected by periodontal disease than other age groups, and for most types of cancers, the process of carcinogenesis usually occurs over many years,” said Nwizu. “So the adverse effects of periodontal disease are more likely to be seen among postmenopausal women, simply because of their older age.”
The study, titled “Periodontal disease and incident cancer risk among postmenopausal women: Results from the women's health initiative observational cohort”, was published on 1 August in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.