WebMD Health News
Louise Chang, MD
Sept. 8, 2009 -- Taking care of your teeth and gums may not only save your
smile, it could save your life. A new study suggests a common form of gum
disease may significantly raise the risk of head and neck cancer.
Researchers found that people diagnosed with head and neck cancers were much
more likely to have chronic periodontitis than people without cancer.
Periodontitis is advanced gum disease that leads to progressive loss of bone
and soft tissue that surround the teeth.
In fact, each millimeter of bone loss due to chronic periodontitis was
associated with a more than four times higher risk of head and neck cancer,
after taking into account other known risk factors such as smoking.
Researchers say the results may help explain why head and neck cancer rates
continue to climb although smoking rates have been declining for the last 40
The study also adds to a growing body of research that shows chronic
inflammation and infection can affect the risk of cancer, heart disease, and
other health problems.
The study, published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and
Prevention, compared rates of periodontitis in 226 people with head and
neck cancer and a comparison group of 207 people without cancer.
The results showed that each millimeter of bone loss due to chronic
periodontitis was associated with a greater than fourfold higher risk of head
and neck cancer. The link between gum disease and cancer was strongest among
people with cancers of the mouth, followed by cancers of the oropharynx (back
of the mouth and throat) and larynx (voice box).
When the researchers looked at the link between periodontitis and head and
neck cancers according to tobacco use, researchers say they were surprised to
find it was weaker in current smokers compared with former smokers and those
who had never smoked.
"Confirmatory studies with more comprehensive assessment of smoking, such as
duration, quantity and patterns of use, as well as smokeless tobacco history
are needed," says researcher Mine Tezal, DDS, PhD, assistant professor at the
school of dental medicine at the University of Buffalo, in a news release.
SOURCES:Tezal, M. Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, September
2009; vol 18: pp 2406-2412.News release, American Association for Cancer Research.
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