Tooth loss and gum disease linked to pancreatic cancer in black women

May 23, 2019
Tooth loss and gum disease linked to pancreatic cancer in black women
The claim

Poorer oral health may contribute to a higher incidence of pancreatic cancer among African American women.

The background

Pancreatic cancer, which has a five-year survival rate of less than 10 percent, is more common in African Americans than in white Americans. The reason for this health disparity is unknown.

Several previous studies in white populations have shown an association between poor oral health and pancreatic cancer. It is also known that higher rates of poverty among African Americans and limited access to dental care have contributed to poorer oral health among the black community.

This latest study, led by Julie Palmer, professor and associate director of the Slone Epidemiology Center at Boston University, set out to examine the link between poorer oral health and higher rates of pancreatic cancer.

The method

Data from the Black Women’s Health Study, which enrolled 59,000 African American women aged between 21 to 69 in 1995, were analyzed.

Additional information on cancers and other health conditions, as well as smoking, alcohol and weight, were added to the dataset every other year between 2007 and 2016. At the end of the follow-up period, additional data had been collected on around 85 percent of participants.

Researchers regularly spoke to participants about gum disease and tooth loss. Though the questions varied slightly year by year, they typically covered gingivitis, bleeding gums and tooth loss.

The results

There were 78 cases of pancreatic cancer during the study period.

Seven percent of respondents reported both tooth loss and gum disease, while 41 percent reported tooth loss without gum disease and five percent reported gum disease without tooth loss. Almost half, 47 percent, said they had experienced neither.

Researchers found that women who reported tooth loss without gum disease were more than twice as likely to have developed pancreatic cancer. This association was strongest among those who had lost at least five teeth.

The results showed that women who reported gum disease, but had not lost any teeth, were 77 percent more likely to have been diagnosed with the disease than those who had not had gum disease or lost any teeth.

Women who had experienced periodontal disease and lost teeth were 58 percent more likely to have developed the cancer.

The implications

The study authors state that more research is needed to understand the connection between the oral microbiome and pancreatic cancer risk.

“These findings, taken together with what we know about patterns of oral health in the United States, suggest that the existing racial disparities in pancreatic cancer and mortality could be reduced by improving oral care for African Americans,” says Palmer.1

The source

Gerlovin, H., Michaud, D. S., Cozier, Y. C., & Palmer, J. R. (2019). Oral Health in Relation to Pancreatic Cancer Risk in African American Women. [ABSTRACT] Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention Biomarkers. Retrieved from


  1. Gum Disease and Tooth Loss Associated With Higher Risk of Pancreatic Cancer in African-American Women. (2019, March 28). Retrieved from
Tooth loss and gum disease linked to pancreatic cancer in black women

Astellas Patient Advocacy is a function within Corporate Affairs at Astellas that focuses on creating, building and maintaining third-party relationships. We serve as a conduit between Astellas and external stakeholders to help improve patient outcomes, improve access issues and address patients’ unmet needs head on.

Leave a Reply