Breast Cancer: Postmenopausal Women With Gum Disease At Increased Risk

First Posted: Dec 21, 2015 05:03 PM EST

Is there a link between gum disease and breast cancer?

Researchers at the University of Buffalo found that postmenopausal women with gum disease are more likely to develop breast cancer--particularly if they smoke or have a history of smoking.

"If we can study periodontal disease and breast cancer in other populations, and if we can do more detailed study of the characteristics of the periodontal disease, it would help us understand if there is a relationship," said Dr. Jo Freudenheim, a professor at the University at Buffalo, in a news release. "There is still much to understand about the role, if any, of oral bacteria and breast cancer."

During the study, researchers reviewed the health records for more than 70,000 women with breast cancer who'd been followed as part of the Women's Health Initiative Observational Study. About 26 percent of the women had gum disease.

After following up with the women for about 7 years, researchers found that close to 2,000 were diagnosed with breast cancer. Researchers reported that breast cancer risk was 14 percent higher among those with breast cancer.

Women with gum disease who had never smoked or who had quit smoking over more than 20 years before the start of the study had a 6 and 8 percent higher breast cancer risk, researchers say, while women with gum disease who had quit smoking in the previous 20 years had a 36 percent higher risk of breast cancer and women who were smoking at the time of the study showed a 32 percent higher risk. 

Even if the individual quit smoking, researchers stress the long-term influence this habit can have regarding the formation of bacteria for former smokers. 

The study is published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention.

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