Gum Disease Bacteria Linked To Esophageal Cancer

The presence of oral bacterium called 'tannerella forsythia' has been tied to increased odds of esophageal tumors.

The presence of oral bacterium called 'tannerella forsythia' has been tied to increased odds of esophageal tumors.

Gum disease bacteria has now been tied to higher odds of esophageal cancer. The link between gum disease bacteria and the deadly illness is just one more reason the public should continue to brush and floss their teeth regularly.

For 19 years, a study tracked the oral health of 122,000 Americans and found that the presence of two types of bacteria which has been linked to gum disease may spike the risk of cancer, according to CBS News.

The presence of one oral bacterium named, Tannerella forsythia, was tied to a 21 percent increase in the odds of developing esophageal tumors. The findings were discovered by a team led by Jiyoung Ahn, an associate director for population science at NYU Langone Health in New York City.

Gum disease has already been linked in numerous studies to a heightened risk of the number one killer, heart disease. However, Dr. Anthony Starpoli, associate director of esophageal endotherapy at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, an expert in esophageal cancer, reviewed the new findings and stressed that researchers have yet to prove a causal link to esophageal tumors.

“What is not clear is whether the presence of these bacteria or the resultant periodontal disease is primarily responsible for the development of cancer.”

Nonetheless, Starpoli believes that specialists should “consider a proper evaluation of the oral cavity as well as the remainder of the digestive tract in the hope of early diagnosis of esophageal cancer.”

Esophageal cancer is the eighth most common cancer and the sixth leading cause of cancer death worldwide, the study authors noted. Since esophageal cancer is often only diagnosed at an advanced stage, five-year survival rates are between 15 to 25 percent.

Ahn said, “Esophageal cancer is a highly fatal cancer, and there is an urgent need for new avenues of prevention, risk stratification, and early detection.”

The news from the study wasn’t all bad: The investigators found that some types of mouth bacteria were associated with a lower risk of esophageal cancer.

In a news release from the American Association for Cancer Research, Ahn noted that learning more about the bacteria communities living naturally in the mouth “may potentially lead to strategies to prevent esophageal cancer, or at least to identify it at earlier stages.”

Dr. Robert Kelsch, an oral pathologist at Northwell Health in New Hyde Park, New York, agreed with the study that some oral bacteria may contribute to the development of deadly cancer.

“The study suggests that there are some oral bacteria that may contribute to the development of this highly deadly cancer but also, and very importantly, suggests that some bacteria may provide a protective effect.”

Kelsh added, “knowing which bacteria are good and which are bad could lead to preventive treatments or serve as predictors of risk of development of this cancer.”

Ahn added that good oral health which includes regular tooth brushing and dental visits may also help protect against gum disease and health conditions that have been associated with it.

The study findings were published on December 1 in the journal for Cancer Research.