Tooth Loss Linked To Greater Risk of Pancreatic Cancer Among African American Women

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Dr. Julie Palmer

Dr. Palmer

Julie R. Palmer, ScD
Professor, Boston University School of Medicine
Associate Director, Slone Epidemiology Center at Boston University
Boston, MA 02118 

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: Since 1995, 59,000 African American women from all regions of the U.S. have participated in a Boston University research study of the health of Black women.  Study participants complete mailed or online questionnaires every two years.

Our major goal is to identify modifiable risk factors for cancers and nonmalignant conditions that disproportionately affect African Americans (e.g., pancreatic cancer, early-onset breast cancer, type 2 diabetes, uterine fibroids).  The reasons for the higher incidence of pancreatic cancer in African Americans relative to non-Hispanic White women in the U.S. are unknown.

I was aware that several recent studies in predominantly White populations had observed a higher incidence of pancreatic cancer in those who had reported poor oral health and wondered whether the higher prevalence of poor oral health among African Americans could play a role in their higher incidence of pancreatic cancer.  We had already asked about gum disease, periodontal disease, and adult tooth loss in several rounds of data collection.

After rigorous analysis, we found that women who reported any adult tooth loss had about two times the risk of future development of pancreatic cancer compared with those who had no tooth loss and had never reported periodontal disease.

The estimated risk was even greater for those who had lost five or more teeth. A similar association was observed for reports of periodontal disease, but the association was not statistically significant.

MedicalResearch.com: What should readers take away from your report? 

  1. The results add to growing evidence of a link between periodontal disease or tooth loss and risk of pancreatic cancer.
  2. Oral health is important!  When money is tight, oral health care, including preventive care for children, is often the first thing to go.  As a society, we need to find a way to make dental care available to all. 

MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work? 

Response: Studies like ours provide a basis for research into biologic mechanisms. Future research will address possible reasons for the observed associations.  For example, does the oral microbiome play a role?  Is it specific microorganisms moving through the digestive tract or inflammation caused by the presence of the microorganisms, or both? 

I have nothing to disclose. 

Citation:

Oral Health in Relation to Pancreatic Cancer Risk in African American Women
Hanna Gerlovin, Dominique S. Michaud, Yvette C. Cozier and Julie R. Palmer
Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev March 28 2019 DOI:10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-18-1053

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