Periodontal disease has been linked to other diseases such as diabetes and heart problems but now researchers have found that unhealthy gums can lead to esophageal cancer as well. Researchers from the University of Louisville in Kentucky and Henan University of Science and Technology in Luoyang, China have found for the first time that Porphyromonas gingivalis, the bacterium behind gum disease, could be a major risk factor for esophageal cancer in a study reported in the journal Infectious Agents and Cancer.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that nearly 15,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with esophageal cancer annually. According to cancer.org, the numbers are more staggering with 17,000 people being diagnosed and 15,500 dying from the disease. The disease starts in the esophagus or gullet, the muscular tube that moves food from the throat to the stomach. It’s difficult to diagnose in its early stages and for most patients, the disease develops rapidly after the diagnosis with a negative prognosis.
Due to the fact that the lining of the esophagus is made up of two kinds of cells, there are two different types of esophageal cancer, esophageal adenocarcinoma and esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC), the more common type in developing countries. Current known risk factors of esophageal cancer include chemical exposure, diet, hereditary, and age, factors already common in other cancers.
For the study, the team tested the tissue of 100 different patients that had ESCC and 30 that didn’t have the disease. These 30 were the control group. They used three test samples from three different types of esophageal tissue; cancerous tissue, non-cancerous tissue adjacent to the cancerous tissue, and normal tissue from the control group.
The study found that Porphyromonas gingivalis was found in 61 percent of the cancerous tissue samples, only 12 percent of adjacent tissue samples, and none of the normal tissue samples. Researchers measured the expression of lysine-gingipain, an enzyme unique to P. gingivalis, and looked for traces of DNA of the bacterial cell to detect the P. gingivalis in tissue samples.They found that the levels of enzyme and bacterial DNA were significantly higher in the cancerous tissue of ESCC patients than there were in the surrounding tissue or the tissue of normal controls. The results of the study also found that the P. gingivalis measures were in line with the levels of other measures like the extent of cancer cell differentiation, metastasis (extent of spread), and the overall survival rate.
Professor Huizhi Wang, co-senior author of the study and assistant professor of oral immunology and infectious diseases at the University of Louisville School of Dentistry, says that there are two potential explanations for the findings. Either the existence of P. gingivalis creates an environment where the esophageal cancer cells can thrive or the existence of P. gingivalis spurs the development of the cancer cells. If the reason for the results is that P. gingivalis creates an environment that helps the cancer cells thrive, simple antibiotics could be the way of treating the ailment. They could also use genetic technology as a way of targeting the P. gingivalis and eradicating the cancerous cells.
With such a high number of diagnosis each year of esophageal cancer and with the survival rate quite low, this finding could have a significant impact on the lives of those at risk. If researchers are able to get confirmation of their findings, then simple improvements in oral hygiene, eliminating the existence of periodontal disease, could result in a significant decrease of esophageal cancer diagnosis.
Over the years, periodontal disease has been linked to many other types of diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. The finding of this research that gum disease may have a negative impact on esophageal cancer is significant in showing that treatment of periodontal disease may be key in the elimination, or at least prevention, of esophageal cancer. As several studies have shown, it’s important to take periodontal disease seriously as it can have effects that far outreach your mouth. If you have problems with periodontal disease, don’t wait until other problems arise. Come to Vero Implants and Periodontics for a consultation to eliminate the problem and avoid any other potential health issues that could arise from it.