Severe gum disease may lead to increased cancer risk

Severe periodontitis may lead to an increased risk of cancer, according to a study published Jan. 27 by the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Researchers looked at data from more than 7,000 people aged 44 to 66 years who took part in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities study — a long-term epidemiological study that began in 1987 and included three follow-up visits over a 10-year period. The participants were from different U.S. regions, did not have a cancer history, and were either toothless or agreed to undergo a dental exam prior to the study. 

The researchers found that the association between severe periodontitis— a severe form of gum disease that causes the teeth to fall out or become loose— and total cancer risk was stronger in men compared to male participants without gum disease or diagnosed with only mild periodontitis. In particular, the study noted an 80 percent increased risk for colorectal cancer in patients without teeth and an increase in lung cancer for nonsmokers who reported having periodontitis. The researchers also noted a small incidence of pancreatic cancer (48 cases) in those participants with severe periodontitis; however, this association was not statistically significant.

No associations were observed for breast, prostate, blood or lymphatic cancers.

The researchers concluded that there is an increased risk for cancer in people with periodontitis but noted that “additional research is needed to understand cancer site–specific and racial differences” in their findings.

For more information about oral health, visit the American Dental Association’s consumer website The site also features a Symptom Checker that can help patients identify possible oral health conditions.

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This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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