Seeing This in Your Mouth Might Be a Sign of Cancer

A new study was presented at the 2016 American Society for Cancer Research Meeting, which reveals a connection between periodontal disease and pancreatic cancer. The link may suggest that gum disease is a potential early marker for pancreatic cancer, which could pave the way for a wave of early detection of the cancer—which also happens to be one of the most deadly forms of cancer—due to it’s advanced stage at which it’s often diagnosed.

Researchers from the New York University (NYU) Langone Medical Center (with a grant from the National Cancer Institute) found that those with two types of oral bacteria that cause periodontal disease—in this case, Porphyromonas gingivalis and Aggregatibacter actinomycetemcomitans—have a higher prevalence of pancreatic cancer than those who didn’t have the gum disease.

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The research shows that participants with Porphyromonas gingivalis in their oral cavities had a 59 percent greater risk of pancreatic cancer than the participants who didn’t. The association of participants with Aggregatibacter actinomycetemcomitans wasn’t as significant as the aforementioned, though they had at least a 50 percent increased risk of developing the cancer.

The findings support the study’s initial hypothesis claiming that those who have developed pancreatic cancer tended to have poor oral health. A number of previous studies have also showcased a strong relationship between gum disease and pancreatic cancer. Findings from a 2013 European cohort study also showed that having high levels of Porphyromonas gingivalis antibodies in blood caused a twofold increase of developing pancreatic cancer, while another 2007 prospective cohort study found a 64 percent increased risk of pancreatic cancer when looking at more than 50,000 male health professionals with a history of periodontitis.

By looking at the oral samples of saliva collected prior to the onset of pancreatic cancer, this study from NYU is the first to reveal that periodontal disease does in face precede the development of pancreatic cancer, not the other way around. However, researchers made clear that this finding does not confirm that the two gum disease-causing bacteria cause pancreatic cancer. Instead, they correlate it with systemic inflammation occurring within the body, a known symptom or precursor for developing cancer, and having periodontal disease-causing bacteria in the mouth, may increase the likelihood of inflammation.

According to Timothy Chase, DMD, medical studies proving new links between oral and systemic disease is becoming more and more frequent. "It is now more apparent than ever that good oral hygiene and regular dental exams might save your life as well as your smile. Periodontal disease is usually painless, but the signs of possible periodontal disease are bleeding gums when brushing or flossing,  bad breath, sensitive teeth, receding gums, or teeth that feel loose," Dr. Chase explains, adding that periodontal disease caught in the early stages can be easily treated with gum treatments, antibiotics,  special mouth wash, and improved home care, but its later stages may require more significant gum treatments to eradicate the disease. "But with today’s technology, even the most advanced treatments are painless. Best advice? See your dentist regularly, and sooner if you have any of the signs listed above."