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Dec 21, 2015 11:44 AM EST

Researchers find link between gum disease and breast cancer

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A new study suggests that having gum disease might increase the risk for breast cancer among postmenopausal women, particularly those who smoke, Health Day reports.

The researchers said that women with gum disease had a 14 percent increased risk for breast cancer, compared to women without gum disease.

The risk grew to 30 percent if the menopausal women smoked or had smoked in the past 20 years, researchers said.

"These findings are useful in providing new insight into what causes breast cancer," said lead author Jo Freudenheim, a professor of epidemiology at the University at Buffalo's School of Public Health and Health Professions in New York.

However, the study did not prove a cause-and-effect link between gum disease and breast cancer or other diseases.

A number of earlier studies have found an association between gum disease and other chronic diseases, including stroke, heart attack and other cancers, Freudenheim said.

"There is much to learn about why we see these associations," she said. "In particular, we don't know yet if treating the gum disease would decrease risk of these other diseases."

The report was published Dec. 21 in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.

For the study, the researchers collected data on nearly 74,000 postmenopausal women who took part in the Women's Health Initiative study.

The researchers found that women who were smoking at the time of the study appeared to have a 32 percent higher risk for breast cancer if they had gum disease. Among women who had quit smoking sometime within the past 20 years, those with gum disease seemed to have a 36 percent higher risk of breast cancer.

In addition, women who had never smoked but had gum disease seemed to have a 6 percent increased risk of developing breast cancer, and those who had quit more than 20 years before and had gum disease had an 8 percent higher risk.

Dr. Stephanie Bernik, chief of surgical oncology at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, said, "Although there is a possibility that there is a direct link between gum disease and an increased risk of breast cancer, this study does not prove a direct link."

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