According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 15,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with esophageal cancer each year.
But researchers at the University of Louisville School of Dentistry have found that a bacterial species responsible for gum disease may be associated with esophageal cancer, indicating hope for battling the cancer before it begins.
The researchers found that Porphyromonas gingivalis, the bacterial species, is present in 61 percent of patients with esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC). Additionally, 12 percent of tissues infected with P. gigivalis were adjacent to the cancerous cells, while the bacteria was undetected in normal esophageal tissue.
The peer-reviewed online journal Infectious Agents and Cancer published the findings in February. The study was a collaboration with the College of Clinical Medicine of the Henan University of Science and Technology in Luoyang, China.
"These findings provide the first direct evidence that P. gingivalis infection could be a novel risk factor for ESCC, and may also serve as a prognostic biomarker for this type of cancer," said Dr. Huizhi Wang, assistant professor of oral immunology and infectious diseases at the dental school, in a press release. "This data, if confirmed, indicate that eradication of a common oral pathogen may contribute to a reduction in the significant number of people suffering with ESCC."
The study tested tissue samples from 100 patients with ESCC and 30 normal controls.
The researchers measured the occurrence of an enzyme unique to P. gingivalis within the esophageal tissue. The presence of the enzyme was significantly higher in the cancerous tissue and in ESCC patients than in surrounding tissue or normal control sites.
There are two likely explanations, Dr. Wang said. Either ESCC cells are a preferred place for P. gingivalis to thrive or the infection of P. gingivalis facilitates the development of esophageal cancer. If it is an infection, simple antibiotics might be useful, Dr. Wang said.
"Should P. gingivalis prove to cause ESCC, the implications are enormous," Dr. Wang said. "It would suggest that improving oral hygiene may reduce ESCC risk. Screening for P. gingivalis in dental plaque may identify susceptible subjects, and using antibiotics or other anti-bacterial strategies may prevent ESCC progression."
The study is available at http://infectagentscancer.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13027-016-0049-x .© 2017 American Dental Association. All rights reserved. Reproduction or republication is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission from the American Dental Association.