A new study suggests that middle-aged and older women with gum disease are slightly more likely than those with gum disease to develop breast cancer.
Gum disease has also been related to heart disease, stroke, diabetes and some other cancers.
The study found that that increased risk was most pronounced for women with gum disease who smoked cigarettes or had quit within the past 20 years. However, the authors of the study caution that the reasons for the links are still unknown.
It is possible that that the characteristics are correlated with something else that’s causing both gum disease and breast cancer.
The researchers analyzed data of more than 73,000 postmenopausal women who did not have breast cancer to begin with. A quarter of the women had periodontal disease. Periodontal disease is a chronic inflammation and infection of the gum tissue around the base of teeth.
About 2,100 women had been diagnosed with breast cancer. The risk of breast cancer was 14% higher for the women with gum disease in comparison with the women without it.
Researchers also adjusted for a variety of other breast cancer risk factors such as age, weight, exercise, alcohol use and smoking. Once the adjustment was made, the increased breast cancer risk associated with gum disease fell to 11%.
The women with breast cancer were then grouped by smoking status. The researchers found that 23% of women that had never smoked had gum disease, while 34% of former smokers had gum disease and 47% of current smokers had gum disease.
This analysis showed that women with gum disease that never smoked had a 6% increase risk of breast cancer compared to women without gum disease, former smokers with gum disease had a similar risk increase. However, for recent quitters or current smokers, the risk was 36%.
It is too early to say that treating or preventing gum disease lowers breast cancer risk.
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