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Gum Disease Increases Risk Of Breast Cancer For Postmenopausal Women, Study

Update Date: Dec 23, 2015 01:40 AM EST

Postmenopausal women who have gum disease tend to be more exposed to the risks of breast cancer, according to a research team led by Jo L. Freudenheim from the University at Buffalo's School of Public Health and Health Professions.

After examining 73,737 postmenopausal women who were participants of the Women's Health Initiative Observational Study for 6.7 years, scientists found that in the beginning, none of them had breast cancer, but 26.1 percent of the women exhibited periodontal disease.

Their smoking habits, which has been shown to lead to cancer, were also factored.

By the end of the study, the team diagnosed 2,124 women with breast cancer, among which patients of gum disease seemed to show a 14 percent higher risk to breast cancer.

Among women with gum disease, the following startling links were also found: those who had quit smoking in 20 years were 36 percent more likely to develop breast cancer, while, on the other hand, those who had quit smoking for over 20 years displayed a six percent risk for breast cancer.

Patients who never smoked but displayed periodontal disease suffered an eight percent risk for breast cancer.

Hence, smoking tends to impact the development of cancer, and its effects cannot be reversed, said researchers.

"We know that the bacteria in the mouths of current and former smokers who quit recently are different from those in the mouths of nonsmokers," Freudenheim noted in a press release.

Perhaps the breast tissues get affected by a "systemic inflammation caused by gum disease" or by mouth bacteria entering the circulatory system. Still, the cause-and-effect link was not established.

"If we can study periodontal disease and breast cancer in other populations, and if we can do a more detailed study of the characteristics of the periodontal disease, it would help us understand if there is a relationship," Freudenheim said. "There is still much to understand about the role, if any, of oral bacteria and breast cancer."

The study was published online Dec. 21 in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention.

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