Periodontal disease (gum disease), which is most often caused by bacteria in dental plaque, has been linked with other chronic health problems. A new study by the University at Buffalo’s School of Public Health and Health Professions, the largest of its kind, found that periodontal disease is correlated with breast cancer in postmenopausal women. While oral-associated microbes have been found in breast tumors, very little research has been presented about the relationship between relationship between periodontal disease and breast cancer until now.
The study, which began in 1991, monitored over 73,000 postmenopausal women who had never had breast cancer. At the time of the study, 26% of the women were found to have gum disease. After almost 7 years, 2,124 of the women had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Researchers found that women with periodontal disease had a 14% higher risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer.
Making Sense of the Data
Researchers have proposed several possible explanations for the association between periodontal disease and breast cancer. There’s a possibility that a systemic inflammation from periodontal disease could affect breast tissue, or that oral bacteria that enter the circulatory system could affect the tissue.
What impact do these findings have?
Robert Genco, a co-author on the paper and SUNY Distinguished Professor in the Department of Oral Biology in UB’s School of Dental Medicine, noted that, “Since periodontal disease affects half or more women in this age range, the increase in risk, although small, may be important on a population base. Further study of mechanism and effects of periodontal intervention are necessary to more fully understand this relationship.” Researchers are uncovering more and more information about how our individual microbiomes affect our health.