Gum Disease and Pancreatic Cancer

Inflammation and bacteria may play key roles.

Charles W Martin By Charles W Martin, DDS

Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer death in the United States, killing over 30,000 people a year. It's a particularly lethal form of cancer because by the time it's discovered it's usually advanced and many patients survive only a few months after they are diagnosed.

In my columns on dLife, I've talked about the various diseases that affect people with diabetes and also about the role that gum disease plays in the severity of those diseases. Well there's also a link between gum disease and pancreatic cancer – as well as other forms of cancer.

If you've ever known anyone who has had pancreatic cancer, you know how deadly it is. And if you've had a friend or family member experience this disease you know it's painful and fast moving. Like a lot of cancers, smoking is a major risk factor. Other risk factors are obesity, type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance, and our old nemesis – gum disease.

Health Professionals Follow-Up Study Linkage
Medical researchers first began to link gum disease and pancreatic cancer as part of the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, which was started in 1986. The study group is made up of 51,529 men working in the health professions in the United States. Over a six-year period, starting in 1996, 216 study participants were confirmed with pancreatic cancer, 67 of whom had gum disease.

What did the researchers think might be a factor in the pancreatic cancer-gum disease link? Well they have a couple of theories. One involves systematic inflammation – which I've talked about in detail in my column titled Links Between Diabetes and Gum Disease – The Inflammation Response. Inflammation, they believe, may play a key role in the development of pancreatic cancer.

But inflammation isn't the only reason researchers think that gum disease and pancreatic cancer may be related. People with gum disease also have high levels of oral bacteria in their mouths as well as carcinogenic nitrosamines. These, researchers suggest, may interact with gastric acids and play a role in developing pancreatic cancer as well.

After adjusting for age, smoking, diabetes, body mass index and other factors, researchers concluded that men with gum disease had a 63 percent higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer than those who did not have gum disease. Even among subjects who never smoked, gum disease was associated with a two-fold increase in the risk of pancreatic cancer.

That's certainly something to be concerned about because there are other links between diabetes and pancreatic cancer – and there are links between gum disease and diabetes as well. Certainly more research is necessary, and researchers caution that they have no evidence that gum disease is a cause of pancreatic cancer. But, given what we do know about the effect of gum disease on blood sugar control and the links between gum disease and a host of other diseases, can you think of any more compelling reason for careful home oral health care and regular dental checkups?

For more information about dental care for people who have diabetes, visit and Dr. Martin's blog,

To learn more about the two-way connection between diabetes and gum disease, check out the other columns here on dLife or Dr. Martin's book, Don't Sugar Coat It.

Read Dr. Charles Martin's bio here.

Read more of Dr. Martin's columns.

NOTE: The information is not intended to be a replacement or substitute for consultation with a qualified medical professional or for professional medical advice related to diabetes or another medical condition. Please contact your physician or medical professional with any questions and concerns about your medical condition. 

Last Modified Date: July 01, 2013

All content on is created and reviewed in compliance with our editorial policy.

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