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According to an article recently published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, men with poor oral health have a significantly increased risk of developing pancreatic cancer over those with good oral health.

The pancreas is an organ that is surrounded by the stomach, small intestine, bile ducts (tubes that connect the liver to the small intestine), gallbladder, liver, and spleen. The pancreas helps the body to break down food and produces hormones, such as insulin, to regulate the body’s storage and use of food.

There are approximately 33,730 new cases of pancreatic cancer diagnosed in the United States every year, with 32,200 deaths attributed to this disease annually. Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States.

The majority of patients are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer once it has spread from the pancreas to distant sites in the body, a stage referred to as metastatic pancreatic cancer. The reason that the majority of pancreatic cancers are diagnosed at such a late stage is that the disease usually causes no symptoms until it has spread. As well, there are no universal screening methods for the disease.

Due to the lethal nature of pancreatic cancer, understanding risk factors that contribute to its development is critical. Greater understanding of these risk factors may help identify patients who are at a high risk so that they may undergo regular screening for the disease and thus be diagnosed and treated early. This understanding may also allow individuals at high risk to reduce their risk by altering certain behaviors.

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Researchers from Massachusetts and Puerto Rico recently conducted a clinical study to evaluate the potential association between oral health and the development of pancreatic cancer. This study included 51, 529 male health professionals between the ages of 40–75 years who were followed for 16 years. Data on periodontal (gum) disease were obtained at the beginning of the trial and every year thereafter. Data involving several other factors, including smoking (a known risk factor for pancreatic disease), were also collected. Overall, 216 patients were diagnosed with pancreatic cancer during the study.

  • A history of periodontal disease increased the risk of developing pancreatic cancer by 64%.
  • Among individuals who had never smoked, the risk of developing pancreatic cancer more than doubled for those with a history of periodontal disease compared to those with no history of periodontal disease.
  • The greater the severity of periodontal disease, the greater the risk for developing pancreatic cancer.

The researchers concluded that periodontal disease significantly increases the risk of developing pancreatic cancer among men. These results provide more data to support a relationship between good oral health and overall health.

Reference: Michaud D, Joshipura K, Giovannucci E, Fuchs C, et al. A prospective study of periodontal disease and pancreatic cancer in U.S. male health professionals. Journal of the National Cancer Institute. 2007; 99:171-175.

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