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Brushing Your Teeth Can Slash Risk of Esophageal Cancer


toothpaste the enemy A new study found some strains of bacteria in the mouth that lead to gum disease are linked to a higher risk of cancer of the esophagus. The malignancy is the sixth leading cause of cancer deaths in the world, said lead researcher Jiyoung Ahn of New York University.

The esophagus is the tube that brings food from the mouth to the stomach. Because cancer affecting the organ is usually not diagnosed until it spreads, the five-year survival rate is between 15 and 25 percent.

Esophageal cancer is a highly fatal cancer, and there is an urgent need for new avenues of prevention, risk stratification, and early detection,” said Ahn.

Bacteria in Mouth Linked to 21-Percent Higher Risk

Earlier research found that gum disease caused by certain bacterial strains in the mouth is associated with cancer of several parts of the body, including the head, neck and esophagus. It has even been linked to increased Alzheimer’s risk. (Check out our article Gum Disease Can Increase Cancer and Alzheimer’s Risk to learn more about the prior research.)

The current study was undertaken to determine if bacteria in the mouth are connected to the risk of esophageal adenocarcinoma (EAC) or esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC).

Ahn and her team collected oral wash samples from 122,000 participants who were enrolled in two studies: the American Cancer Society Cancer Prevention Study II Nutrition cohort and the National Cancer Institute Prostate, Lung, Colorectal, and Ovarian Cancer Screening Trial.

During the 10-years of follow-up, 106 participants were diagnosed with esophageal cancer. The bacterial strains in the mouth of the cancer patients were compared with the strains of those who were cancer free. Higher numbers of Tannerella forsythia bacteria were linked to a 21-percent elevated likelihood of EAC; and bacteria Porphyromonas gingivalis was associated with an increased risk of ESCC. Both types of bacteria are connected with gum disease, said Ahn.

Just as some bacterial strains were tied to a higher risk of esophageal cancer, so also some were tied to a lower risk. One example was the Neisseria bacteria, which was associated with a reduced risk of EAC. According to Ahn, this means certain bacteria have a protective action, and future studies could explore whether the microbes could play a role in prevention of the disease.

“Our study indicates that learning more about the role of oral microbiota may potentially lead to strategies to prevent esophageal cancer, or at least to identify it at earlier stages,” Ahn said. “The next step is to verify whether these bacteria could be used as predictive biomarkers.”

The study had one caveat: complete information on the participants’ oral health wasn’t available. This drawback prevented the researchers from determining whether the increased risk was due to the presence of the pathogenic bacteria or whether it stemmed from full-blown gum disease.

What Other Conditions Are Linked to Gum Disease?

Pathogenic bacterial strains in the mouth can cause gum disease, which is mysteriously associated with an array of diseases other than esophageal cancer. These include heart disease, stroke, diabetes and lung disease. In addition, during pregnancy the condition raises the likelihood of premature births or low-birth weight babies.

Ahn said that the results underscore the importance of good oral care, including dental visits and regular tooth brushing. It protects from gum disease as well as the conditions associated with it.

The study was published in the journal Cancer Research.


Mary West is a natural health enthusiast, as she believes this area can profoundly enhance wellness. She is the creator of a natural healing website where she focuses on solutions to health problems that work without side effects. You can visit her site and learn more at Ms. West is also the author of Fight Cancer Through Powerful Natural Strategies.

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