Gum Disease Bacteria Linked To Higher Risk For Esophageal Cancer

By Allan Adamson | Dec 04, 2017 06:28 AM EST

Here's another reason why you need to brush and floss your teeth regularly: Findings of a new study have revealed that gum disease bacteria are linked to increased risk for esophageal cancer.

Gum Bacteria Linked To Higher Odds For Esophageal Tumors

In the new study, researchers tracked the oral health of 122,000 people over a span of 10 years. Findings showed that the presence of bacteria associated with gum disease may up risk for cancer. The oral bacterium called Tannerella forsythia, which is associated with gum disease was linked to a 21 percent increased risk for developing esophageal tumors.

Good Oral Bacteria

Types of the Streptococcus and Neisseria bacteria, on the other hand, were linked to up to 24 percent reduced the risk for esophageal cancer. Neisseria break down the toxins found in tobacco smoke. Unfortunately, smokers have lower amounts of these bacteria compared with those who do not smoke.

"The study suggests that there are some oral bacteria that may contribute to the development of this highly deadly cancer but also, and very importantly, suggests that some bacteria may provide a protective effect," said  Robert Kelsch, from Northwell Health in New Hyde Park, N.Y.

"Knowing which bacteria are good and which are bad could lead to preventive treatments or serve as predictors of risk of development of this cancer."

Gum disease has already been associated with another health risk. Researchers of earlier studies found it is linked to higher risk for heart disease.

Not Causal Link

Esophageal cancer experts who reviewed the new study, however, said that the findings did not prove a cause and effect link to esophageal tumors. Nonetheless, specialists are urged to consider evaluating the oral cavity and digestive tract of patients so the esophageal disease can be detected early.

Esophageal Cancer

Esophageal cancer is the eighth most common form of cancer and one of the leading causes of cancer deaths worldwide. It is often diagnosed at an advanced stage so only 15 to 25 percent of patients have five-year survival rates.

Good oral health, which includes regular brushing of the teeth and dental visits may provide protection against the disease.

"Depletion of the commensal genus Neisseria and the species Streptococcus pneumoniae was associated with lower EAC risk," the researchers wrote in their study, which was published in the journal Cancer Research on Dec. 1.

"Abundance of the periodontal pathogen Porphyromonas gingivalis trended with higher risk of ESCC. Overall, our findings have potential implications for the early detection and prevention of EAC and ESCC."

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