Dentists have been dealing with oral bacteria for years. The oral bacteria that causes gum disease has been linked to the development of esophageal cancer, a new study says.

Dentists from the University of Louisville found that Porphyromonas gingivalis, the bacterial species that causes gingivitis, was detected in 61 percent of patients diagnosed with esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC).

The esophagus is a tubular muscle that connects the throat and the stomach. It acts as the passageway of food into the digestive tract and it is made of muscles that contract to move food to the stomach.

In the study published in the journal Infectious Agents and Cancer, the researchers examined the tissue of 100 patients diagnosed with ESCC and a control group consisting of 30 healthy patients. They measured amounts of lysine-gingipain, an enzyme unique in P. gingivalis bacterial species.

They found that the enzyme and its DNA were present in tissues of patients with cancer but not in healthy tissues. They also found the bacteria in 12 percent of tissues adjacent to the cancerous cells while they did not detect the bacteria in healthy esophageal tissues.

Oral Bacteria And Esophageal Cancer Link

Two possible factors may explain the presence of the bacteria in the cancerous tissue. The researchers believe that the cancer cells live in the presence of the bacteria or the infection most likely helped in the development of cancer.

"These findings provide the first direct evidence that P. gingivalis infection could be a novel risk factor for ESCC, and may also serve as a prognostic biomarker for this type of cancer," said Dr. Huizhi Wang from the UofL School of Dentistry.

Esophageal Cancer Can Be Prevented

"These data, if confirmed, indicate that eradication of a common oral pathogen may contribute to a reduction in the significant number of people suffering with ESCC," Wang added.

This sheds light in the possible cause of esophageal cancer and if the study's finding is true, a simple antibiotic treatment for this type of cancer can be used or may pave the way to the development of other therapeutic modalities to target the P. gingivalis and destroy the cancer cells.

Practicing good oral hygiene and having regular dental visits could reduce the risk of developing esophageal cancer. It is estimated that this type of cancer could affect about 16,910 new people and will kill about 15,690 people in the United States in 2016.

"These findings demonstrate for the first time that P. gingivalis infects the epithelium of the esophagus of ESCC patients, establish an association between infection with P. gingivalis and the progression of ESCC, and suggest P. gingivalis infection could be a biomarker for this disease," the researchers concluded in the study.

"More importantly, these data, if confirmed, indicate that eradication of a common oral pathogen could potentially contribute to a reduction in the overall ESCC burden," they added.

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