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Study Finds Link Between Gum Disease and Breast Cancer

Update Date: Dec 21, 2015 05:04 PM EST

Gum disease and breast cancer might be linked in postmenopausal women, a new study found.

In a new study, researchers examined data on about 74,000 postmenopausal women who were participants in the Women's Health Initiative study. None of the women examined in this study had a history of breast cancer. At the follow up, which was an average of seven years, more than 2,000 women had developed breast cancer.

The team found that women who have been diagnosed with gum disease have a 14 percent overall increased risk of developing breast cancer when compared to women who never had gum disease.

When the researchers looked at the effect of smoking, they found that women with gum disease who were smokers at the time of the study had a 32 percent increased risk of breast cancer. The team noted that this link was not statistically significant. In women with gum disease who quit smoking within the past 20 years, their risk of breast cancer increased by 36 percent. In women patients who quit smoking more than 20 years ago, they had an eight percent increased risk of breast cancer.

"These findings are useful in providing new insight into what causes breast cancer," said lead author Jo Freudenheim, a professor of epidemiology at the University at Buffalo's School of Public Health and Health Professions in New York reported by HealthDay. "There is good evidence, though, that good dental care is important in any case and that treatment of periodontal disease is important for the health of the mouth."

Several experts have noted that the study did not find a direct link between the two health conditions.

"Although there is a possibility that there is a direct link between gum disease and an increased risk of breast cancer, this study does not prove a direct link," Dr. Stephanie Bernik, chief of surgical oncology at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, commented. "Women with gum disease may lead lives that are less healthy overall, such as eating poorly, not exercising and drinking excessively."

Dr. Leonard Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society, added, "We have to be cautious about putting too much emphasis on this study, but look at it in the context of overall health."

The study was published in the journal, Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.

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