Esophageal cancer is one of the most common cancers worldwide – eighth to be exact. Not only that but it is also the sixth most common cancer caused deaths.
Only 15-20% of all patients survive in 5 years.
Dr. Jiyoung Ahn is an associate professor and associate director for population science and the Laura and Isaac Perlmutter Center at New York University. She conducted a study, lasting a decade, that was focused on how oral bacteria can lead to periodontal disease and increase a patient’s chance of developing esophageal cancer.
What is Esophageal Cancer?
The esophagus is the long hollow tube within the body that connects the throat and mouth to the stomach.
Esophageal cancer is 3 times more likely to be found in men than women.
Esophageal cancer develops from malignant cells that form inside the esophagus, typically becoming a large tumor or mass that continues to grow.
There are two major types of esophageal cancer that develops in different ways and areas.
- Squamous cell carcinoma – cancer is formed inside the lining of the esophagus in thin flat cell. Usually it is found in the upper and middle part of the esophagus.
- Adenocarcinoma – within the glandular tissue is where a tumor forms. Typically, it forms in the lower section of the esophagus, near the stomach.
Those who have esophageal cancer may experience the following:
- Chest pain
- Difficulty swallowing
- Weight loss
- Pain behind breastbone or throat region
The reason it has such a low survival rate is because it is caught in the late stages. When it is too far along. If left untreated, it can eventually spread to nearby organs such as lymph nodes, stomach, liver and lungs.
Periodontal disease is an advanced form of gum disease. It stems from gingivitis, or inflammation of the gingival.
Healthy gums should be pale pink and tightly fitted around your teeth. With periodontal disease your gums become swollen or puffy, bleed when brushing or flossing and the gums are receding.
This occurs because of trapped bacteria under patient’s gums causes irritation. When plaque builds up to tartar, it requires professional care to remove.
While gingivitis is reversible, advanced periodontal disease is not. It leads to tooth decay and tooth loss.
With the leading cause of periodontal disease being poor oral health, make sure you have good oral habits. This includes brushing twice and flossing daily and regular dental checkups.
Dr. Ahn's Study
This study was based on prior research on how periodontal disease was associated with cancers in the mouth, head and neck. The study was primarily based specifically on the oral microbiota found as a result of periodontal disease.
Dr. Ahn’s goal was to identify whether the oral microbiota increased the chances of developing either adenocarcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma later.
The study was conducted using 122 000 different samples from patients who participated in the American Cancer Society Cancer Prevention Study II Nutrition and the Nation Cancer Institute Prostate, Lung, Colorectal and Ovarian Cancer Screen Trial.
Dr. Ahn found that after a decade, 106 patients developed esophageal cancer. They extracted their oral DNA and compared to the previous test.
Certain types of bacteria were linked to higher rates of esophageal cancer. Porphyromonas gingivalis connected to squamous cell carcinoma and Tannerella forsythia caused a higher risk of adenocarcinoma.
Both of these bacteria are linked to periodontal disease.
However, there was an interesting discovery regarding other types of bacteria. Several bacteria actually helped lower the chances of patients being diagnosed in the future.
Dr Ahn hopes to conduct more research in the future. She believes that learning more about the different bacteria will allow doctors to identify the disease predictively. It will help diagnose patients earlier and prevent the later stages of the cancer from occurring.