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Exploring the Connection Between Your Oral Health and Pancreatic Cancer

Exploring the Connection Between Your Oral Health and Pancreatic Cancer

In the continuing fight against cancer, one of the deadliest forms of the disease is pancreatic cancer. While only the 12th most diagnosed type of cancer, pancreatic cancer ranks as the fourth-leading cause of cancer death among adults overall. One of the reasons pancreatic cancer has such a high mortality rate compared to other forms of the disease is the poor detection rate.

Rarely detected early, pancreatic cancer typically spreads rapidly, and symptoms of the disease only begin to manifest after it has significantly progressed, which severely limits options for successful treatment. Only one of five of those individuals diagnosed with the disease will live longer than five years.

The American Cancer Society estimates that every year, over 46,000 Americans will receive a pancreatic cancer diagnosis, and nearly 40,000 will die as a result of the disease.

A small, pear-shaped gland located behind the lower section of the stomach, most people know the pancreas produces insulin, the hormone responsible for regulating blood sugar. Poor blood sugar control and insulin resistance can increase an individual’s risk of diabetes. The pancreas is also responsible for secreting enzymes that help food digest in the stomach.

As your dentist in Vancouver, Dr. Ostenson and the rest of our staff at Ostenson Dental want all of our patients to understand how their oral health relates to their overall health. In our continued effort to bring you the latest information, in this blog post we’ll take a look at how your oral health may be connected to pancreatic cancer.

The Mouth Body Connection

A 2007 study conducted at the Harvard School of Public Health of over 50,000 men found that those with a history of gum disease had a higher risk of developing pancreatic caner. Even after the researchers adjusted their findings to factor for diet, diabetes, obesity, history of smoking, age and other potential risk factors for pancreatic cancer, they discovered that men with a history of gum disease had a 64 percent increased chance of pancreatic cancer compared to men without a history of gum disease.

A more recent 2012 study from researchers at Brown University, Harvard University and the Forsyth Institute found that high antibody levels against the oral bacteria p. gingivalis double an individual’s risk of pancreatic cancer. The body creates antibodies as a normal response to foreign invaders, such as bacteria. Antibodies are a normal part of the body’s immune system. The more bacteria present the higher the number of antibodies the body produces.

While everybody has some bacteria living inside the gastrointestinal system, some types are normally present and harmless, while other represent a disease condition. The bacteria p. gingivalis is present in high numbers in the mouth of individual’s with gum disease.

Interestingly, the study found that those who had a higher percentage of antibodies to harmless good bacteria had a 45 percent lower risk of developing pancreatic cancer.

Despite these findings, researchers still don’t fully understand the connection between gum disease and pancreatic cancer. There is no established cause and effect relationship between the two diseases, though links have been established that tie inflammatory conditions like gum disease to the growth of cancer cells.

However, gum disease is not the only risk factor for pancreatic cancer. A variety of other proven risk factors exists, and some researchers believe that 25 percent of all cases of the disease are the result of smoking. Over 80 percent of cases develop in patients over the age of 60, and the men are more likely to develop pancreatic cancer than women.

If you have questions about how oral health affects the rest of your body, ask Dr. Ostenson at your next appointment. Call today!



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