As researchers continue to probe the links between oral and systemic health, independent studies in Europe and the United States underscore the potential connections between periodontitis and various forms of cancer, with a particular look at how oral bacteria may trigger onset of the disease.
Bacteria and Cancer
Researchers at the University of Helsinki, the Helsinki University Hospital, and the Karolinska Institutet have investigated the role of bacteria that cause periodontitis in developing oral and certain other cancers as well as the link between periodontitis and cancer mortality on the population level.
Their work has proven for the first time, the researchers said, the existence of a mechanism on the molecular level through which Treponema denticola (Td) also may have an effect on the onset of cancer. The primary virulence factor of Td, the Td-CTLP proteinase, also occurs in malignant tumors in the gastrointestinal tract such as pancreatic cancer.
The CTLP enzyme can activate the enzymes that cancer cells use to invade healthy tissue (pro-MMP-8 and pro-MMP-9). At the same time, CTLP also diminishes the effectiveness of the immune system by, for example, inactivating molecules known as enzyme inhibitors.
In another study, the researchers proved on the population level that periodontitis is linked with cancer mortality, with an especially strong link to mortality caused by pancreatic cancer. Some 70,000 Finns took part in the this 10-year follow-up study.
“These studies have demonstrated for the first time that the virulence factors of the central pathogenic bacteria underlying gum disease are able to spread from the mouth to other parts of the body, most likely in conjunction with the bacteria, and take part in central mechanisms of tissue destruction related to cancer,” said Timo Sorsa, a professor at the University of Helsinki.
The researchers concluded that a low-grade systemic inflammation related to periodontitis facilitates the spread of oral bacteria and their virulence factors to other parts of the body. They noted that the prevention and early diagnosis of periodontitis are very important for patients’ oral health and their overall wellbeing.
“In the long run, this is extremely cost-effective for society,” Sorsa said.
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