Link Between Breast Cancer and Gum Disease

A study out of the UK has some concerning information for older women. Women are both postmenopausal and have periodontal disease, otherwise known was gum disease, have a much higher chance of developing breast cancer. The  study showed that a woman with gum disease is 14% more likely to get a positive diagnosis for breast cancer.

The study was published online on Dec. 21, 2015 by the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. Read the abstract of “Periodontal Disease and Breast Cancer: Prospective Cohort Study of Postmenopausal Women.”

In this study, the researchers monitored 73,737 postmenopausal women in the WHI who had never been diagnosed with breast cancer. About 26% of the women told the researchers they had gum disease.

After about 6.5 years, 2,124 women had been diagnosed with breast cancer.

Overall, the risk of breast cancer was 14% higher in women who had gum disease compared to women who didn’t have gum disease. So if average breast cancer risk is about 12%, a woman with gum disease had about a 13.5% risk of breast cancer.

“We thought that periodontal bacteria — either the bacteria themselves or the inflammation that’s part of having periodontal disease — has an effect on other parts of the body, including breast tissue. We know there are bacteria in breast tissue and we know there are bacteria in mother’s milk. Women who had periodontal disease had a small increase in the risk of breast cancer overall,” said Jo Freudenheim, Ph.D., distinguished professor of epidemiology and environmental health at the University of Buffalo and lead author of the study.

The researchers said there are several possible reasons for the association between gum disease and breast cancer:

  • Bacteria in the mouth can get into the bloodstream through tooth brushing, flossing, and chewing. Even though the bacteria are cleared out of the body quickly, the cumulative exposure to tissues can be considerable. It could be that these bacteria affect breast cancer.
  • Inflammation in one part of the body, such as the gums, may have an impact on other diseases.
  • There may be other factors that increase the risk of both gum disease and breast cancer.

“This is a new area, so we have to be careful in how we interpret our findings,” said Dr. Freudenheim. “We can’t say, ‘if you treat periodontal disease it will reduce cancer risk.’ There are new methodologies that allow us to measure things we weren’t able to before. We are now beginning to understand how much the interaction of the microbiome affects our health both in terms of acute infections and chronic diseases.”