For many years, researchers have reported a link between gum disease and an increased risk of developing heart disease and diabetes. Now scientists have discovered that gum disease, once thought of as a fairly benign condition, also can increase your risk of certain types of cancer.

Those are the finding of a recent study published in the medical journal Lancet Oncology. Researchers followed male health professions for nearly two decades, and all of the men had a history of gum disease. By the end of the study, researchers found that the health professionals had a 14 percent overall greater risk of developing cancer compared to men who do not have gum disease.

According to New York City dentist Dr. Martha Cortes, who has been treating patients with gum disease for more than 20 years ( and was not involved in the study), “after controlling for smoking and other risk factors, periodontal disease was significantly associated with an increased risk of lung, kidney, pancreatic and hematological (blood) cancers.”

In addition, this higher than normal risk factor was true even among health professionals in the study who never smoked.

“Prior to this recent study, ” said Dr. Cortes, ” researchers have known that people with gum disease also show a higher level of inflammation in their blood. Inflammation is now well known to be a risk factor for certain types of cancer, as well as heart disease, diabetes and many other health conditions. But until the Lancet Oncology study, many researchers thought that whatever causes inflammation in the body might also cause gum disease and cancer independently of each other. ”

The goal of the study was to determine whether or not gum disease by itself increases the risk of cancer. In order to conduct their study researchers used data from a previous large study of male doctors and other health professionals aged 40 to 75.

That study began in 1986 at Harvard University. In it, nearly 50,000 men filled out health surveys and were followed for more than 17 years. The survey included information on gum disease and bone loss, as well as various other criteria such as their number of teeth and tooth loss.

More than 5,700 of the health professionals developed cancer during the time that they were followed, not including cases of non-melanoma skin cancers and non aggressive prostate cancer.

The researchers found that men who had gum disease had 14 % higher cancer risk compared to those with did not. Additionally, their risks were higher depending on the type of cancer.

The findings showed that men with a history of gum disease had:

  • a 36 % greater risk of lung cancer
  • a 49 % higher risk of kidney cancer
  • a 54% higher risk of pancreatic cancer
  • 50 % higher risk of blood cancers (such as non-Hodgkin lymphoma, leukemia or multiple melanoma) compared t men who did not have gum disease.

In addition, men who had fewer than the normal number of teeth (0-16) at the start of the study had a 70 % higher risk of lung cancer compared with individuals with more normal teeth numbers ( 25 to 32).

Please also see our blog for the most recent treatment considerations:
“Gum Health: an Early Warning System.”

To improve and maintain your oral health, visit our dental office. Located in downtown Evanston, we are convenient to Skokie, Wilmette, and Northern Chicago suburbs. —Dr. Arnold K. Chernoff