Poor oral hygiene may be linked to an increased risk of pancreatic cancer, especially among black women, new data shows. According to a recent study published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention, black women with adult tooth loss were more likely to get pancreatic cancer than black women who had strong oral health.
Researchers from the Boston University School of Medicine analyzed data from the Black Women’s Health Study to detect patterns related to cancer. The Health Study had enrolled 59,000 black women between the ages of 21 and 69 beginning in 1995, collected data, and updated the data every other year.
Using this data, researchers found that black women who had lost five or more teeth were more likely to develop pancreatic cancer compared to black women with strong oral health. Researchers say this link may be due to oral bacteria and the inflammation oral bacteria can cause. While 20% of adults say the condition of their mouth and teeth causes anxiety, there may be more to worry about than just an unhealthy looking smile.
“We need to understand the makeup of the bacteria in [the participants’ mouths], to understand how this affects their immune system, in a way that puts them at risk for cancer,” said Dr. Allyson Ocean, a medical oncologist at Weill Cornell Medicine.
“We don’t know that oral hygiene was the direct cause of their cancer, but what’s interesting is that [researchers] are seeing more patterns emerge,” said Ocean.
Ocean says the study could lead to more research, which could help doctors get a better understanding of what it is about oral bacteria that are linked to cancer. It could also help black Americans’ risks for pancreatic cancer.
Compared to the 23,800 adults diagnosed with cancerous brain or spinal cord tumors every year, black Americans are 50% to 90% more likely to develop pancreatic cancer than any other group of people in the United States.
And although drug discovery is a multi-billion dollar industry and new treatments for pancreatic cancer are in the works, it’s still important to catch the cancer early on. Pancreatic cancer can be difficult to detect, which is why it isn’t often caught at an early stage.
“Pancreatic cancer is a more common disease in African American people in general, and that’s not a well-known fact,” said Ocean. “People may be predisposed to pancreatic cancer because it runs in their family, or if they are diabetic, or if they are African American. These are all known risk factors.”
Ocean says she often hears of patients having their blood and tumor sequenced for genomics, a field of biology focusing on the function and structure of genomes. Now, though, she says we’re in an era where genetic testing is done on people’s stool to figure out the genomics of their digestive bacteria.
“I think that’s where we might be able to help develop ways to predict the risk [of pancreatic cancer],” Ocean said. “If researchers can figure out the gene signature of someone’s bacteria, maybe that will eventually give us a clue as to what’s causing cancer.”
The Boston University study is just one study in a popular movement toward figuring out the relationship between cancer risk and digestive bacteria. Ocean says the bacteria in our digestive systems can influence the way our immune system works and how their immune system reacts to developing cancer cells.
Oral bacteria is the same bacteria that in the digestive tract, which means the bacteria in your mouth is the same bacteria in your esophagus and other parts of the intestine. Your oral health is directly related to your digestive health.
Invisalign uses 3-D imaging technology to determine a treatment plan for adjusting the teeth, but good oral health requires more than braces. Digestive problems can cause oral health problems, and to heal one you often need to heal the other. If you’re experiencing digestive issues or oral health problem, talk to your dentist and your doctor.