Gum disease and pancreatic cancer may be associated with one another, according to the British Dental Health Foundation.

Published in the journal Gut, the study found that certain types of bacterium present in the formation of gum disease is linked to a 2 times higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer. On the other hand, oral bacteria that is not harmful resulted in a 45% decreased risk of pancreatic cancer.

A 2007 study, conducted by the same researchers, found that men with a history of periodontal disease had a 64% increased risk of pancreatic cancer than men who did not.

The experts say they cannot yet prove that gum disease increases the risk of pancreatic cancer, but they say that the new research is evidence that there is a significant association between the two.

Earlier studies have said there is a correlation between the two diseases. However, it is not clear whether certain bacteria found in gum disease are a cause or a result from pancreatic cancer.

Signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer, which depend on the size, tissue type, and location of the tumor may include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Jaundice (yellowish coloring of eyes and skin)
  • Upper abdomen pain
  • Trousseau sign – a medical sign present in certain cancers
  • Clinical depression
  • Diabetes mellitus

Dominique Michaud, a Brown University epidemiologist, said: “This is not an established risk factor. But I feel more confident that something is going on. It’s something we need to understand better.”

Co-lead author of the study, Jacques Izard from the Forsyth Institute and Harvard University agreed with Michaud. He explained, “We need to further investigate the importance of bacteria in pancreatic cancer beyond the associated risk.”

The study found that pancreatic cancer was responsible for 7,901 deaths out of 20,104, and in England, a mere 4% of pancreatic cancer patients lived for more than 5 years.

Chief Executive of the British Dental Health Foundation, Dr Nigel Carter OBE, said that if there is even the slightest evidence of an association between pancreatic cancer and gum disease, this should be enough to remind people of how critical good oral health is.

He said:

“This research provides further ammunition to the growing belief these two disease could be related.

There is no escaping the fact that poor oral health has some role to play, as a number of studies are now starting to show. What we must remember is oral health is relatively simple to maintain. The Foundation’s three key messages- brushing your teeth for two minutes twice a day using a fluoride toothpaste, cutting down on how often you have sugary foods and drinks and visiting the dentist regularly, as often as they recommend- are a great starting point for maintaining good oral health.

If you have swollen gums that bleed regularly when brushing, bad breath, loose teeth or regular mouth infections appear, it is likely you have gum disease. If any of these symptoms persist, your dentist may be able to help you.”

Written by Christine Kearney