Gum diseases are linked to many health problems. A type of bacterial species responsible for gum disease may also be a cause of esophageal cancer, finds a new study.
The findings, published in the journal Infectious Agents and Cancer, showed the bacteria Porphyromonas gingival is present in 61 percent patients with esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC).
“These findings provide the first direct evidence that P. gingivalis infection could be a novel risk factor for ESCC and may also serve as a prognostic biomarker for this type of cancer,” said Huizhi Wang from the University of Louisville’s school of dentistry in the US.
“These data, if confirmed, indicate that eradication of a common oral pathogen may contribute to a reduction in the significant number of people suffering with ESCC,” Wang added.
The esophagus is a muscular tube, critical to the movement of food from the mouth to the stomach.
For the study, researchers tested tissue samples from 100 patients with ESCC and 30 normal controls.
The results showed both the bacteria-distinguishing enzyme and its DNA were significantly higher in the cancerous tissue of ESCC patients than in surrounding tissue or normal control sites.
The researchers also found the presence of P. gingivalis correlated with other factors, including cancer cell differentiation, metastasis and overall survival rate.
There are two likely explanations: either ESCC cells are a preferred niche for P. gingivalis to thrive or the infection of P. gingivalis facilitates the development of esophageal cancer, Wang explained.
If the former is true, Wang said, simple antibiotics may prove useful or researchers can develop other therapeutic approaches for esophageal cancer utilising genetic technology to target the P. gingivalis and ultimately destroy the cancer cells.
“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,” Wang added.