We all know that good oral hygiene is important for the pearly whites. But now there's even more reason to floss: It may help to ward off a deadly cancer.
Gum disease and other dental difficulties have already been linked with an increased risk in heart disease, heart attacks, stroke, diabetes and pre-term and low birth-weight babies. And now researchers have found a connection between flossing and pancreatic cancer.
As reported by NBC, researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health found that gum disease was a major risk factor for pancreatic cancer.
“We found that individuals with a history of periodontal disease had about a 60 per cent increase in their risk of getting pancreatic cancer,” the study said.
The study, which analyzed 16 years of health information on more than 50,000 men, factored out smoking, obesity, diabetes, physical activity, diet and other potential risks. And after these risks were factored out, men with a history of gum disease had a 63 per cent higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer compared to men without periodontal disease.
While the study doesn’t prove gum disease causes cancer, researchers speculate that it results in chronic inflammation occurring throughout the body — and it is this that could ultimately predispose people to pancreatic cancer.
Another possibility is that the higher levels of bacteria found in the mouths and stomachs of people with gum disease, as well as the presence of nitrosamines — potent cancer-causing compounds also found in tobacco — could lead to the cancer.
Men who had both gum disease and tooth loss had the highest risk for pancreatic cancer, the study found. Researchers said that additional studies are planned to confirm the link and also to determine if there’s an oral health connection to other types of cancers.
The pancreas is a gland located within the abdomen near the stomach. It is important for making digestive juices and hormones such as insulin.
While pancreatic cancer may not be as common as other types of cancer, it contributes to a large proportion of cancer deaths. In Canada, an estimated 3,500 new cases were diagnosed last year, and there were an estimated 3,400 deaths. Worldwide, there are an estimated 232,000 new cases of pancreatic cancer annually.
Because most patients are not diagnosed until the cancer has spread, pancreatic cancer has one of the worst chances of recovery of all types of cancer. Most patients are not diagnosed until the cancer has spread, and less than one in 10 patients is alive five years after diagnosis.
The chance of developing pancreatic cancer at some point in life is close to 1 in 85, or about 1 per cent, according to the Mt. Sinai Hospital website. Most cases of pancreatic cancer occur after the age of 50. It is slightly more common in males than in females.