Periodontal disease may increase cancer risk among postmenopausal women, according to a study published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.1

Previous studies suggest a link between periodontal disease and total cancer risk, with the possible explanation that periodontal pathogens could translocate to distant sites via swallowing or aspiration, potentially leading to cancer-causing mutations. The link between periodontal disease and cancer risk among postmenopausal women is, however, indeterminate.

For this questionnaire-based, prospective study, researchers evaluated data from postmenopausal women in the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study to determine any link between periodontal disease and cancer in this group.

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Of 93,976 participants asked to fill out a health questionnaire, 65,869 were included in the cancer risk analysis. Mean follow-up was 8.32 years. Cancer was diagnosed in 7149 women; 17,103 reported gum disease at year 5. ­­The most common cancer types were breast (2416 cases), lung/bronchus (855), and colon/rectum (639).

The adjusted hazard ratio (HR) for total cancer risk among participants with periodontal disease was 1.14.

Among the 17,103 participants reporting periodontal disease, 42.36% were never-smokers, 51.52% were past smokers, and 6.12% were current smokers. Former smokers with periodontal disease had an increased risk of cancer (HR, 1.21), as did current smokers (HR, 1.2).

Never-smokers with periodontal disease, however, had an HR for cancer risk of 1.12.

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The authors concluded that these findings “support an expanding body of evidence that periodontal disease is linked to cancer risk. Studies employing more detailed and precise clinical assessments of periodontal disease would help to minimize potential misclassification.”


  1. Nwizu NN, Marshall JR, Moysich K, et al. Periodontal disease and incident cancer risk among postmenopausal women: results from the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Cohort. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. doi: 10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-17-0212 [Epub ahead of print]