Postmenopausal women who have a history of gum disease also have a higher risk of cancer, according to a new study of more than 65,000 women.
The study, led by researchers at the University at Buffalo, is the first national study of its kind involving US women, and the first to focus specifically on older women.
The findings were published last week in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.
“This study is the first national study focused on women, particularly older women,” the study’s senior author Jean Wactawski-Wende said.
“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.”
The study included 65,869 postmenopausal women enrolled in the Women’s Health Initiative, an ongoing national prospective study designed to investigate factors affecting disease and death risk in older American women. The average age of the participants was 68, and most were non-Hispanic white women.
As part of a follow-up health questionnaire, participants were asked, “Has a dentist or dental hygienist ever told you that you had periodontal or gum disease?”
Women who reported a history of gum disease had a 14 per cent increased risk of overall cancer. Of the 7,149 cancers that occurred in the study participants, the majority were breast cancer.
“There is increasing evidence that periodontal disease may be linked to an increased cancer risk and this association warrants further investigation,” said the paper’s first author, Ngozi Nwizu.
The risk associated with periodontal disease was highest for esophageal cancer, the researchers reported. “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,” Wactawski-Wende said.
Gallbladder cancer risk also was high in women who reported a history of gum disease. “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,” Nwizu said.
Periodontal disease also was associated with total cancer risk among former and current smokers.
The findings for this particular age group are significant because they offer a window into disease in a population of Americans 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,” Nwizu said.
“So, the adverse effects of periodontal disease are more likely to be seen among postmenopausal women, simply because of their older age.”