Chronic periodontitis linked to tongue cancer

Last Updated: 2007-05-21 16:00:37 -0400 (Reuters Health)

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – In a small case-control study, chronic periodontitis was associated with an elevated risk of tongue cancer, independent of smoking status and other potential risk factors.

"We expected to see an association, given the results of earlier studies linking chronic infections and inflammation to cancer risk in other organs," lead author Dr. Mine Terzal, from the University at Buffalo School of Dental Medicine in New York, said in a statement. However, "we didn’t expect to see such a clear association with a relatively small sample size."

The study involved 51 white men with newly diagnosed squamous cell cancer of the tongue and 54 cancer-free controls who were seen during the same period. The study excluded people younger than 21 years and those who lacked teeth, were immunocompromised, or had a history of any malignancy. Alveolar bone loss on radiography was used to assess periodontitis.

The researchers’ report their findings in the May issue of the Archives of Otolaryngology: Head and Neck Surgery.

On multivariate analysis, each millimeter reduction in alveolar bone was associated with a 5.23-fold rise in the risk of tongue cancer, the report indicates.

"Periodontitis is a chronic disease that progresses very slowly," Dr. Terzal noted. "Seeing alveolar bone loss on X-rays indicates the infection has existed for decades, making it clear that periodontitis preceded the cancer diagnosis, and not vice-versa."

The authors conclude that larger studies are needed to confirm these findings and to better control for lifetime tobacco exposure.

Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg 2007;133:450-454.