According to a new study, gum disease may significantly increase a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer. Although we don’t currently have a good explanation for the potential link, there are several theories that can link oral bacteria and cancer risk.

This is a good reminder that, in addition to the cosmetic effects of receding gums, gum disease represents a serious threat to your health.

Gum Disease, Smoking, and Breast Cancer

The recent study, published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers, & Prevention, looked at a large number of postmenopausal women participating in the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study (WHIOS), about a quarter of whom (26.1%) had gum disease. For this study, 73,737 women without previous breast cancer were followed for an average of 6.7 years during which time the researchers tracked the incidence of primary invasive breast cancer. A total of 2124 cases of breast cancer were identified during this time.

Looking at the cases, they found that women with gum disease were 14% more likely to develop breast cancer. Because smoking has an impact on both gum disease and breast cancer risk, they compared the risks of women who were current smokers, recently quit, or never smokers. They found that smokers who had quit within 20 years had a 36% higher risk of breast cancer if they had gum disease . They also found that current smokers had a similar risk (32% increase with gum disease), but the number was so small (only 74 cases) that the increase wasn’t statistically significant.

Explaining the Link

Although the study didn’t allow for an explanation of the causal connection between gum disease and breast cancer, researchers proposed several potential links. First, they noted that the chronic inflammation caused by gum disease could affect many parts of the body, including the breasts. Chronic inflammation has been linked to cancer risk. Oral bacteria travel throughout the body by hitching a ride in your blood. In your breasts, they might shield breast cancer cells the way they have been shown to shield colon cancer cells. Finally, it’s possible that the risk is actually genetic. Women who are genetically predisposed to develop gum disease might also be at greater risk for developing breast cancer.

Although we do not yet understand the link between these two conditions, our next question to answer is whether treating gum disease can reduce breast cancer risk, as it can do with heart disease.

If you had gum disease that significantly damaged your gums, we can help restore your gums to a more attractive, healthy appearance. Please call (949) 551-5902 for an appointment in Orange County or (310) 275-5325 for an appointment in Beverly Hills.