Oral Health and the Cancer Connection

***UPDATED: April 21, 2016*** A very valuable connection between oral health and pancreatic cancer has just been discovered with a serious potential to save lives. Pancreatic cancer often begins with no symptoms, therefore there is no routine screening test. Often those diagnosed are in the late stages of the disease which significantly decreases their chances of survival. But researchers have determined that the presence of a certain bacteria in the mouth may indicate a raised risk for the disease, meaning it could potentially be a risk factor to monitor. While previous studies have found that there is a possible link between a history of gum disease and an increased risk of pancreatic cancer, this study, led by NYU Langone in New York, NY, is the first to offer direct evidence of the link. It is estimated that over 46,000 Americans were diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2014, with an astonishing 40,000 losing their battle. For more information about the study, check out this article from Medical News Today.

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of death from cancer in the United States and researchers believe they now understand a little more about how the fatal disease is triggered.  According to a recent Medical News Today article, two recent studies suggest that a bacteria found in the mouth may actually be responsible for the onset of colorectal cancer by influencing the immune system and “turning on” specific cancer genes.  The hope is that information produced from these studies might lead to the earlier detection of the disease, more effective treatment, and ultimately, prevention.

Our bodies house trillions of bacteria that are responsible for maintaining our health by assisting in the digestion of food and helping our immune systems function properly.  The research suggests however that if an imbalance between the “good” and the “bad” gut bacteria exists, colon cancer may be triggered.  The studies were both published in a recent online journal issue of Cell Host & Microbe and focused on two specific genuses of bacteria, Fusobacteria and the species F. nucleatum.    Fusobacteria was found in benign tumors that became cancerous over time and was determined to speed up tumor formation in mice, by summoning a type of immune cell that triggers inflammation, often leading to cancer.  Additionally, the bacteria were found to use a molecule to stick to and invade human colorectal cancer cells.  The molecule used, called Fusobacterum adhesin A (FadA), is known to switch on genes that spur cancer growth.  The team found that tissue from a healthy individual had lower levels of FadA than tissue from patients with both benign and malignant colorectal tumors.  Senior author of one of the studies said they were able to show “that FadA is a marker that can be sued for the early diagnosis of colorectal cancer and identified potential therapeutic targets to treat or prevent this common and debilitating disease.

This research is yet more proof that oral health and general wellness are closely connected.  While it would be incorrect to state that by practicing good oral hygiene habits, one could avoid cancer, it’s hard to deny that maintaining good habits, such as visiting your dentist on a regular basis, could help with the early detection of disease as well as possible prevention.  It is becoming more and more apparent that dentists are standing on the front-lines of preventative medicine as your mouth truly is the window to your overall health.

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