Dental Tribune UK & Ireland

Research to examine possible links between periodontal disease and oral cancer

By Dental Tribune International
November 04, 2019

PLYMOUTH, UK: As worldwide oral cancer rates continue to climb, our understanding of what causes the disease to occur, thankfully, also continues to grow. Tobacco use and excessive alcohol consumption have been established as primary risk factors, and researchers are now investigating another potential source for this condition: the bacteria that cause periodontal disease.

The research is being led by Dr Louise Belfield, a lecturer in biomedical science at the University of Plymouth’s Peninsula Dental School, in collaboration with the university’s Institute of Translational and Stratified Medicine. Since cancer requires blood vessels to grow and metastasise, the research team is planning to build on existing evidence that shows how certain bacteria that cause periodontal disease are linked to angiogenesis.

To do so, the research team will develop miniature tumours and blood vessels in a laboratory setting, adding the bacteria with the aim of clarifying how they function and what effect they have on the blood vessels.

According to a press release from the university, if the research ascertains that the bacteria make the blood vessels grow more rapidly and similarly to those associated with tumours and identifies the process by which this is achieved, the results could form the basis of a new screening programme to detect oral cancer risk earlier. This would make it possible to begin treatment in a more timely manner.

“We know that tumours in the mouth, unlike many other tumours, are in constant contact with bacteria, but we don’t know exactly how the bacteria affect tumour and vessel growth yet,” said Belfield.

“The bacteria may not cause the cancer, but they may do something to make the progression of the cancer speed up. One way they could do this is via the blood vessels, encouraging them to grow more rapidly or in a way which helps the tumour to grow. So if we find out what this is and how it works, it can help us develop and put screening processes in place to detect and reduce the numbers of those bacteria,” she continued.

Dental Tribune International (DTI) has previously reported on a study which confirmed the crucial role of dental professionals in detecting oral cancer early. This early detection can greatly improve the prognosis of sufferers.

“Oral cancer is a horrific disease with poor survival rates—only around 50% of those diagnosed are alive five years later. It is an in-your-face, no-hiding, disfiguring disease, and the treatment can be very protracted, complex and costly,” said Dr David Conway, Professor of Dental Public Health at the University of Glasgow’s School of Medicine, Dentistry and Nursing, in an interview with DTI last year.

“The earlier it is detected, however, the better the outcome can be,” Conway added.

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