Earlier this year, a research team at the University of Louisville released findings that show a link between a specific kind of bacteria linked to gum disease and a certain kind of cancer, esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC).

Food moves from the mouth to the stomach through a muscular tube known as the esophagus. Two different cell types line the esophagus. And the two different types of esophageal cancer are ademocarcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. Both, according to the Centers for Disease Control, have a number of risk factors, including diet, chemical exposure, heredity and age. Approximately 15,000 Americans are diagnosed each year with these cancers. Because early detection is difficult, cancers progress rapidly and the death rate is high.

Squamous cell carcinoma is more prevalent in developing countries.

The Research

Recent findings are significant. Bacteria known as Porphyromonas gingivalis is present in 61 percent of patients with this type of cancer. While the organism is not detected in normal esophageal tissue, it is only evident in about 12 percent of adjacent tissue. Experts believe this type of bacterial infection serves as a “biomarker” for diagnosis of this cancer. It may also lead to new forms of therapeutic intervention. Perhaps even relatively simple antibiotic treatment is possible.

The American researchers collaborated with a research team from the Henan University of Science and Technology in Luoyang, China, to test tissue samples from patients with ESCC and from a control group. They measured the presence of an enzyme unique to the P. gingivalis bacteria known as lysine-gingipain. They also tested for presence of bacterial cell DNA in esophageal tissue. Both were found to be higher in the cancerous tissues than in surrounding tissue. This confirms previous findings and the hypothesis.

Other Factors

In addition, according to the reports, researchers “found the presence of P. gingivalis correlated with other factors. This includes cancer cell differentiation, metastasis and overall survival rate.”

While it may be too early to definitively state a causal effect, Dr. Huizhi Wang of the University of Louisville School of Dentistry notes, “The implications are enormous.” Dr. Wang, a physician as well as a Ph.D., is an assistant professor of oral immunology and infectious diseases. He said, “It would suggest that improving oral hygiene may reduce ESCC risk; screening for P. gingivalis in dental plaque may identify susceptible subjects; and using antibiotics or other anti-bacterial strategies may prevent ESCC progression.”

The research confirmed other correlations, including metastasis. The differentiation of cancer cells, survival rates, and results are “extremely encouraging.” Even though the sample study was relatively small. Only 100 patients were studied in a control group of 30.

The Conclusion

The conclusions are exciting. It seems ESCC cells are a preferred host for the P. gingivalis bacteria. Though it is still early in the research process. Or this specific bacteria somehow encourages the growth and development of the ESCC cells. Either way, it offers medical and dental professionals a path to explore in fighting this form of cancer. That is something we can all celebrate.

Once again, we are finding a direct correlation between oral health and general well-being. This reaffirms the benefits of proper care of the teeth and gums. And reaffirms the benefits of routine checkups and ongoing professional dental care. If you have any questions about this research or have other concerns, please contact us to schedule an appointment.

We understand your concerns about oral health — we’re right there with you in looking for the best answers!