Researchers say older women with a history of gum disease may have an increased risk of cancer of the oesophagus and gallbladder.


Although how the germs responsible for gum disease travel to other sites have not been established, theories include that they could affect tissues in the oesophagus or colon by being swallowed with saliva or they could travel through blood circulation.

To examine periodontal disease as a risk factor for cancer in older women, researchers analysed data from 65,869 postmenopausal women who enrolled in the women’s health initiative observational study (WHI-OS).

The women enrolled in the WHI-OS between 1994 and 1998, and baseline data were collected in the form of questionnaires, physical measurements and from taking blood.


In a follow-up health questionnaire administered in the fifth year after enrolment (between 1999 and 2003), the women were asked, ‘Has a dentist or dental hygienist ever told you that you had periodontal or gum disease?’.

Of the 65,869 participants, data showed that 17,103 women reported they had gum disease and 7,149 women had developed cancers by 2013.

The women with gum disease were also more likely to report having a history of smoking or being exposed to second-hand smoke, drinking alcohol, using hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and having a cancer diagnosis.


According to researchers, 14% of the women who reported gum disease had an increased risk of overall cancer and the risk of total cancer remain unchanged in women with gum disease who were ‘never-smokers’.

Breast cancer was the most commonly reported cancer, followed by lung cancer and colon cancer.

The research was conducted at the University of Buffalo in New York and published in the journal of Cancer Epidemiology.


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