A Strong Link
Researchers from the University of Louisville found that the common oral bacterium Porphyromonas gingivalis was present in 61 percent of patients who had esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC). The bacterium was found largely in the cancer cells, being found in only 12% of cells adjacent to the cancer, and not at all in healthy throat tissue.
They used two different types of tests to establish the presence of the bacterium. First, they tested for lysine-gingipain, an enzyme unique to the bacterium. Then they tested for the DNA of the bacterium. Both demonstrated the presence of P. gingivalis in and around the cancers.
Is It a Causal Link?
What researchers couldn’t answer, though, is whether the link between P. gingivalis and esophageal cancer is causal or not. Researchers proposed two different explanations for why the bacteria would be found in the cancer cells. First, it’s possible that living in and around cancer is very good for the bacteria. In this scenario, the cancer develops for whatever reason, then is colonized by P. gingivalis. The other explanation is that P. gingivalis infection contributes to the development of ESCC.
It’s not that unlikely that P. gingivalis could contribute to the development of esophageal cancer. After all, oral bacteria have already been associated, sometimes causally, with other types of cancer. Gum disease has been directly linked to oral cancer and colon cancer, and it has been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer. Researchers have even found that oral bacteria might protect cancer from being detected and destroyed by the body’s immune system.
It seems that the chronic infection of the teeth and gums is a very dangerous health condition that needs to be taken seriously right away.