Risk Of Breast Cancer Linked To Gum Disease?

According to a new study, postmenopausal women who smoke may have the risk of breast cancer increased if they have gum disease. Breast cancer risk increased 14 percent in women who have gum disease, compared to those who do not. In addition, if the women were currently smoking or had smoked within the last 20 years, the risk of breast cancer in women with periodontal disease shot up to over 30 percent. The report was published on December 21 in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.

According to lead author Jo Freudenheim, professor of epidemiology at the University at Buffalo’s School of Public Health and Health Professions in New York, “These findings are useful in providing new insight into what causes breast cancer. There is good evidence, though, that good dental care is important in any case and that treatment of periodontal disease is important for the health of the mouth,” she said.

Risk Of Breast Cancer Linked To Gum Disease? Paula Abdul films a music video for the Avon Foundation for Women #CheckYourself for Breast Cancer campaign at Quixote Studios on September 5, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. To learn more about the #CheckYourself campaign visit www.avonfoundation.org/checkyourself. [Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images for Avon Foundation]Dr. Freudenheim goes on to suggest that further study is necessary and more evidence is needed before gum disease could be definitively proven to cause breast cancer or other diseases. This study did not provide a cause-and-effect link between the periodontal disease and breast cancer, a point which was brought up by several experts outside of the study.

“One possible explanation for the link between periodontal disease and breast cancer is that those bacteria enter the body’s circulation and ultimately affect breast tissue,” Dr. Freuendheim stated. “However, further studies are needed to establish a causal link.”

Freudenheim and her colleagues brought in over 73,000 postmenopausal women, enrolled in the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study, and monitored them. None of these women previously had breast cancer. Periodontal disease, however, was reported to be present in nearly 26 percent of the women. Due to prior studies having shown that the effects of gum disease will be different depending on whether or not a person smokes or has smoked in the past, researchers examined the associations stratified by smoking status.

“There is much to learn about why we see these associations,” Freudenheim said. “In particular, we don’t know yet if treating the gum disease would decrease risk of these other diseases.”

Risk Of Breast Cancer Linked To Gum Disease? CT Tech Sandra Davis looks on as breast cancer patient Heraleen Broome, who is participating in a clinical trial, runs through a CT scan at the UCSF Comprehensive Cancer Center August 17, 2005 in San Francisco, California. [Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images]Periodontal disease is a common condition that is often associated with strokes, heart disease and diabetes. In the past, lung, pancreatic, oral, head and neck cancers have had links with periodontal disease. Women self-reported their periodontal disease status, after being asked if a dentist had ever told them they had it. The study focused on women who were already involved in a long-term national health study, thus meaning they were likely more health-conscious and receiving regular medical and dental care, as opposed to the general population.

Risk Of Breast Cancer Linked To Gum Disease? A patient receives free dental care during the Bridges to Health medical and dental clinic at the O.co Coliseum on April 25, 2014 in Oakland, California. [Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images]Dr. Stephanie Bernik, chief of surgical oncology at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, says that while a link between the two is possible, this study is not able to prove a direct link exists. She feels that more research needs to be conducted.

“Women with gum disease may lead lives that are less healthy overall, such as eating poorly, not exercising and drinking excessively,” Bernik explained.

Dr. Leonard Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society, said, “We have to be cautious about putting too much emphasis on this study, but look at it in the context of overall health.”

[Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images]