Older women with gum disease may be at an elevated risk for breast cancer, according to a new study. The study says that postmenopausal women—especially those who are long-time smokers—who gum disease could be as much as 14 percent more likely to also develop breast cancer.
Furthermore, the study also warns that for women who have smoked more than 20 years, the associated risk could more than double: to 30 percent or more.
“These findings are useful in providing new insight into what causes breast cancer,” explains lead study author Dr. Jo Freudenheim.
The University of Buffalo School of Public Health and Health Professions professor of epidemiology goes on to say, “There is good evidence, though, that good dental care is important in any case and that treatment of periodontal disease is important for the health of the mouth.”
For this study, the researchers examined the health records of nearly 74,000 women who had been part of the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study. None of these women had been diagnosed with breast cancer but 26.1 did have gum disease.
After an average follow-up period of about 6.7 years, the research team found 2,124 of these women were eventually diagnosed with breast cancer. Thus, the researchers concluded that breast cancer risk is, on average, 14 percent higher among those women (of postmenopausal age) with gum disease.
More specifically, the range of risk showed that those women with gum disease who had never smoked or who had quit smoking for at least 20 years were at a 6-8 percent higher risk. Women with gum disease who had quit smoking more recently, were found to be at a 36 percent higher risk.
Dr. Freudenheim adds, “There is much to learn about why we see these associations. In particular, we don’t know yet if treating the gum disease would decrease risk of these other diseases.”
Of course, treating the disease is important, even if we are still not quite sure how gum disease is related to breast cancer. Periodontal disease can result in many health problems and, unfortunately, often goes undiagnosed or misdiagnosed.
The results of this study have been published in the industry journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers, and Prevention