We all know that gum disease is a serious condition that destroys our bones and tissue, but it can also be related to serious health conditions such as Alzheimer’s, heart disease, and even breast cancer. And now a new study shows that gum disease may be linked to one of the more deadly cancers: pancreatic cancer.

woman suffering from jaw pain

Dangers of Pancreatic Cancer

One of the biggest dangers of pancreatic cancer is that it often goes undiagnosed. Many of its symptoms can be attributed to other causes or simply missed, such as:

  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Poor appetite
  • Back pain
  • Abdominal pain

By the time patients start to feel symptoms that can lead to a cancer diagnosis, the cancer has started to spread throughout the body. At the time of diagnosis, only 20% of pancreatic cancers are confined to the pancreas. Once the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, it is extremely difficult to manage. That’s why the overall one-year survival rate for pancreatic cancer is only 20%, and the five-year survival rate is only 6%. Compare that to the five-year survival rates for breast cancer (87%) and prostate cancer (85%), and you’ll see why we describe pancreatic cancer as one of the most deadly.

But if we can find a way to detect pancreatic cancer earlier, we may be able to improve those survival rates. Fortunately, gum disease may give us one important clue to early detection.

Gum Disease May Signal Cancer Risk

For years, research has hinted that gum disease may signal pancreatic cancer risk. Now a large new study from researchers at New York University tells us just how significant the link is. By comparing the oral bacteria in the mouths of 361 men and women who developed pancreatic cancer with 371 men and women of approximately the same age who didn’t, researchers identified two bacteria associated with gum disease that can also signal pancreatic cancer risk.

The study indicated people who have Prophyromonas gingivalis may be 59% more likely to develop pancreatic cancer.  Another gum disease bacterium, Aggregatibacter actinomycetemcomitans, was associated with a 50% higher risk of pancreatic cancer in this study. It’s important to note that, although they are compelling, these results are provisional because they have only been presented at an academic conference and have not been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

People are at an elevated risk for pancreatic cancer if they are overweight, smoke a lot, or have type 2 diabetes (which can also be linked to bacteria in your mouth).

If you have gum disease, regular visits to your dentist can help you manage it, and genetic testing of oral bacteria can help you detect if you are at risk for pancreatic cancer. If you would like to learn more about this and are looking for a great dentist in San Jose or Los Gatos, call Top Down Dental today at (408) 354-5600.