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April 2019

Gum Disease Tied to Cancer Risk in Postmenopausal Women

Gum disease can lead to bad breath; swollen, tender, or bleeding gums; and, over time, loose teeth. But that may not be the worst of it. One study links gum disease to an increased risk for cancer in postmenopausal women. 

Dentist wearing face mask, working on woman's teeth

The study included more than 65,000 women ages 54 to 86. Researchers tracked their health for an average of 8 years. The results were published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention

Smoking, oral bacteria may link gum disease to cancer

In the study, women with a history of gum disease were 14% more likely to develop any cancer, compared with those with healthy gums. The link was strongest for cancer of the esophagus, which was 3 times more common in women who had experienced gum disease. Other types of cancer related to gum disease included breast, gallbladder, and lung, as well as melanoma. 

Smoking can cause both gum disease and many kinds of cancer, so that may be one link tying the two diseases together. But researchers found an association between gum disease and cancer even in women who had never smoked. 

Bacteria from diseased gums may travel to other parts of the body in saliva or get into the bloodstream through bleeding gums. More research is needed to better understand this connection. 

Need another reason for good oral hygiene? It may lower cancer risk

Taking care of your gums may be good for your whole body. Be sure to:

  • Brush your teeth twice a day.

  • Floss daily or use a special pick or brush to clean between your teeth.

  • See your dentist regularly for checkups and cleanings.

  • Quit smoking, if you’re a smoker.




Online Medical Reviewer: McDonough, Brian, MD
Date Last Reviewed: 3/1/2019
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