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Study links pancreatic cancer, gum disease

January 19, 2007|From Newsday

Harvard researchers say they have found strong evidence that gum disease may increase the risk of pancreatic cancer, which is the fourth-leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States.

The researchers, using data from the 51,529 participants of the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, reported on 216 cases of pancreatic cancer during a 16-year period starting in 1986, according to the study published this week in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

In a key finding, researchers reported that 67 of those with pancreatic cancer also had periodontal disease, and there was a 63% higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer when compared with those reporting no gum disease after adjusting for age, smoking, diabetes, body mass index and other factors.

"Most convincing was our finding that never-smokers [with gum disease] had a two-fold increase in risk of pancreatic cancer," the lead study author, Dominique Michaud, said in a statement. Previous studies have identified smoking as a major risk factor for developing pancreatic cancer. Michaud, assistant professor of epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health, said the findings might "provide some new insights into the mechanism of this highly fatal disease."

Study researchers speculated that explanations might include systemic inflammation caused by gum disease, which is believed to contribute to increased levels of carcinogenic compounds generated by bacteria in the mouth.

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