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New Study Shows Oral Health Linked to Esophageal Cancer

A new study published in the journal Cancer Research shows evidence to suggest that oral bacteria may increase the risk of esophageal cancer. Two large studies were conducted in which oral wash samples were collected from 122,000 participants, and their oral bacteria was assessed. After 10 years, 106 of those participants had developed cancer of the esophagus. Through analysis of the participant data, researchers found that some oral bacteria were linked to a higher risk of esophageal adenocarcinoma.

The oral bacteria that causes gum disease has also been linked to other cancers such as oral, neck and head cancers in other research, according to Dr. David Buck, DDS, founder of Balance Epigenetic Orthodontics in Lynnwood, Washington.  

"There continues to be a plethora of research, especially in recent years, that show this connection between oral health and full body health," he said. "Not caring for your mouth can have such serious consequences that it’s important we continue to spread this message."

What Is Esophageal Cancer?

Although it’s not very well known, esophageal cancer is the eighth most common cancer in the world and the sixth most common cause of cancer-related deaths. In 2017, just under 17,000 new cases were diagnosed and 15,690 deaths occurred as a result of the cancer. Men were diagnosed almost four times more than women.

The esophagus connects the throat to the stomach, and its walls have several layers. Most cancers occur in the innermost lining called the epithelium.

Diagnosing and Treating Esophageal Cancer 

As with all cancers, early diagnosis is key to increasing the likelihood of successful treatment. According to the American Cancer Society, there is no screening test at this time that helps aid in early diagnosis as no test has been shown to lower the risk of death for people who are only at average risk of developing the cancer.

Those at higher risk of esophageal cancer such as those over age 50; those who drink alcohol or smoke tobacco; those with Barrett’s esophagus, achalasia, Plummer-Vinson Syndrome or tylosis; and those exposed to certain chemical fumes in the workplace should be screened via an endoscopy on a regular basis.

An endoscopy involves taking a look at the inside of the esophagus with a lighted, flexible tube known as an endoscope. If the doctor notices something out of the ordinary, a biopsy may be taken to check for pre-cancer or cancer cell development.

Treating the cancer depends on the stage at which it is diagnosed. In early stages, treatments using an endoscope to deliver special medications into the esophagus may be successful. Surgery, radiation and chemotherapy are also common treatments for esophageal cancer.

Improving Oral Health Helps the Whole Body 

With more and more research coming out about the connection between oral health and full body health, Buck said it is more important than ever to take oral health seriously. A consistent brushing and flossing routine is imperative, even though many people aren’t doing it, he said.

"There’s no revolutionary new technique to add to your daily routine," he said. "Brush your teeth twice a day for at least two minutes with a soft-bristled brush in good condition and floss every single day. That’s how you prevent gum disease and other complications."

He also recommends visiting a dental professional twice a year to check for any developing problems before they become serious and to clean built-up plaque off teeth before it turns into inflammation and infection.

 

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