The Oral Systemic Link to Certain Cancers

Periodontal disease has been closely linked to the fourth-leading cause of cancer death (pancreatic cancer), as well as the sixth-leading cause of cancer death (oral cancers). The high death rate for both of these types of cancer stems largely from the fact that both very resistant to treatment. Also, pancreatic cancer presents a special challenge, because it does not usually present many signs or symptoms, until it is too late to be treated effectively.

An article published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, based on a study by the Harvard School of Public Health, showed an alarming incidence between periodontal disease and pancreatic cancer. In this study of 51,000 people, it was shown that people with periodontal disease had a 64% higher risk of pancreatic cancer than people with no periodontal disease. The people with the worst cases of periodontal disease, including those that had suffered excessive tooth loss, had the greatest risk.

As with many serious diseases that are associated with periodontal disease, a leading theory of causation is that gum disease significantly increases inflammation in the body, including organs such as the pancreas, and that this inflammation is a direct trigger of cancer cell formation. Another presumed reason for the link between periodontal disease and pancreatic cancer is that periodontal disease creates carcinogenic compounds know as nitrosamines that enter the pancreas, and damage its cells.

As with most cancers, there may well be multiple risk factors associated with the development of pancreatic cancer. Therefore, despite the studies that have been done, it is difficult to say exactly how much periodontal disease contributes to pancreatic cancer. However,

It is undeniable, though, that the link between pancreatic cancer and periodontal disease does have one beneficial aspect. It makes it easier to spot the cancer early. The presence of periodontal disease can be one of the initial indicators of pancreatic cancer, appearing before other indicators, and can therefore lead to earlier treatment.

There is also a strong link between periodontal disease and oral cancers. This may be due to the fact that the site of these cancers is in very close proximity to periodontal disease. Sometimes, chronic infectious disorders can compromise the long-term health of organs and glands. For example, it is known that recurrent, chronic infections of the prostate gland can predispose men to prostate cancer later in their lives.