While the overall risk was 14 percent, the risk for specific cancers was typically higher. Compared to men with healthy gums, men with a history of gum disease had a 36 percent increased risk of lung cancer, a 49 percent hike in risk of kidney cancer, a 54 percent higher risk of pancreatic cancer, and a 30 percent increased risk of white blood cell cancers.
In addition, men who had fewer teeth at the beginning of the study had a 70 percent increased risk of developing lung cancer, compared with men who had 25 to 32 teeth, Michaud's team found.
However, the association between gum disease and lung cancer disappeared among men with gum disease who had never smoked, the team noted. Men with gum disease who did not smoke still had a 35 percent increased risk for blood cancers, however, and a 21 percent overall increased risk for cancer.
One expert believes that the increased risk found in the study is too small to conclude that gum disease is a major risk factor for cancer.
"I am not very impressed with the finding," said Dr. Eva S. Schernhammer, an assistant professor, medicine and public health at Harvard Medical School and School of Public Health. "It's a really modest increased risk. I am not sure I would make too much out of it," she said.
"If this is a true association, it could be a marker of socioeconomic status, or a marker for some inflammatory process that leads to cancer," Schernhammer reasoned. "Given the small increase in risk, I'm not sure it would lead to major, dramatic changes in anything" in terms of public health policy, she said.
For more on cancer risk, visit the American Cancer Society.
SOURCES: Dominique Michaud, Sc.D., reader in cancer epidemiology, Imperial College London, U.K.; Eva S. Schernhammer, M.D., Dr.P.
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