A large prospective cohort study has revealed a link between gum disease and the risk of developing cancer. The study showed that participants with periodontal disease had a 14 per cent increased risk of cancer compared with volunteers without periodontal disease.

The reasearchers analysed data from the Health Professionals Follow-Up study, which involved 51,529 US male health professionals aged 40-75 years and asked participants to report on baseline gum disease with bone loss, number of natural teeth and tooth loss in the past two years. Follow-up questionnaires collected data on any new cancer diagnoses every two years.

Results showed that 40,512 participants had no history of periodontal disease, while 7,863 did. During average follow-up of 17.7 years, 5,720 cancer cases were reported. The five most common cancers were colorectal (1,043), melanoma of the skin (698), lung (678), bladder (543) and advanced prostate (541).

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After adjusting for smoking, dietary factors and other known risk factors, researchers found that participants with a history of gum disease were 14 per cent more likely to develop any type of cancer compared to those with no history of gum disease. Furthermore, compared to men with healthy gums, men with a history of gum disease were 49 per cent more likely to develop kidney cancer, 36 per cent more likely to develop lung cancer, 54 per cent more likely to develop pancreatic cancer and 30 per cent more likely to develop haematological cancers.

The researchers said that their findings need confirmation, but suggested that periodontal disease might be a marker of a susceptible immune system, or might directly affect cancer risk, adding that the study was limited by self-reports of periodontal disease and by inadequate power to study less common cancers. Its findings might also not apply to women.

Michaud DS, Liu Y, Meyer M et al. Periodontal disease, tooth loss, and cancer risk in male health professionals: a prospective cohort study. Lancet Oncol 2008; 9: 550-8. Summaries provided by the European School of Oncology’s Cancer Media Service .


Originally published in the June 2008 edition of MIMS Oncology & Palliative Care.