Research Shows Possible New Link Between Bacteria and Esophageal Cancer

New research shows certain types of bacteria that lead to periodontal disease may be associated with a higher risk of developing esophageal cancer.

Esophageal cancer is the eighth most common cancer around the world, explained Jiyoung Ahn, PhD, an associate professor and associate director for population science at the Laura and Isaac Perlmutter Center at NYU Langone Health in New York in Cancer Research, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.

“Esophageal cancer is a highly fatal cancer, and there is an urgent need for new avenues of prevention, risk stratification, and early detection,” Ahn said.

Previous studies have found that periodontal disease caused by certain oral microbiota has been associated with multiple types of cancer. Common cancers associated with these oral microbiota include oral, head, and neck cancers.

This particular study looked at the relationship between oral microbiota and the risk of esophageal adenocarcinoma (EAC) or esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC).

Ahn and colleagues collected oral wash samples from 122,000 participants. In the following ten years, 106 participants developed esophageal cancer. The researchers then compared the oral microbiomes of the esophageal cancer cases and the cancer-free cases.

The results showed that certain types of bacteria were associated with a higher risk of esophageal cancer. High levels of Tannerella forsythia bacteria were found to be associated with a 21% increased risk of EAC and Porphyromonas gingivalis bacteria was associated with a higher risk of ESCC. Both of these types of bacteria are associated with common gum disease.

On the other hand, Neisseria bacteria was found to be associated with a lower risk of EAC.

While gum disease has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, an expert in esophageal cancer stressed that the researchers cannot prove a causal link yet.

Dr. Anthony Starpoli, associate director of esophageal endotherapy at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City said, “What is not clear is whether the presence of these bacteria or the resultant periodontal disease is primarily responsible for the development of cancer.”

Due to the growing number of health conditions associated with poor oral health, researchers are continuously trying to find ways to diagnose and treat serious health conditions early on. Unfortunately, not everyone takes care of their teeth as well as they should. In fact, about one in four Americans over the age of 74 no longer have any of their natural teeth. While this may be due to a variety of reasons, dentists continue to remind patients of the importance of good oral health.

The study does confirm that good oral health is an important way to decrease the risk of periodontal disease as well as additional health risks. The researchers hope to continue this research and learn more about the bacterial communities living in the mouth.

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