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Men's Health: Does gum disease increase pancreatic cancer risk?

Researcher suggests severe inflammation may promote the development of tumours

Men with severe gum disease have a higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer than men without the condition, according to a study of more than 50,000 health-care professionals.

“Our study provides the first strong evidence that periodontal disease may increase the risk of pancreatic cancer,” says Dr. Dominique Michaud, the lead study author and an assistant professor of epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston.

Periodontal disease involves the inflammation of the gums and the breakdown of the bones that support the teeth.

Michaud says two previous studies reported links between tooth loss and pancreatic cancer, but one consisted entirely of smokers and the other did not account for smoking in its risk analysis. The new study suggests periodontal disease is a separate risk factor for pancreatic cancer, independent of other known or suspected risk factors such as cigarette smoking, obesity and diabetes.

The Harvard study began in 1986 and involved male health professionals ages 40 to 76 years. The researchers gathered data on periodontal disease at the beginning of the study and every other year thereafter. By 2002, a total of 216 men had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and of those, 67 reported periodontal disease.

Men with periodontal disease had a 64 per cent higher chance of being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer than men with healthier gums. Among nonsmoking men, those with periodontal disease had more than double the pancreatic cancer risk of those without periodontal disease.

Michaud says the inflammation that occurs in periodontal disease may promote pancreatic cancer.