A recent study published in Genome Research found that a bacterium that has been associated with periodontal disease has also been detected in colon tumors. Scientists at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Broad Institute in October 2011 found an abnormally large number of “fusobacterium” in colorectal tumor (or colon cancer) samples. Fusobacterium is typically found in dental plaque and associated with gum disease or periodontal disease. This discovery of the bacteria found in both the mouth and the colon is the first time this type of microorganism has been found to play a role in colon cancer. It is an important finding because colon cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States.
DNA samples from normal colon tissue were compared with samples from colorectal cancer tissue. Colorectal cancer (CRC) is also called colon cancer or large bowel cancer. It includes cancerous growths in both the colon and rectum. The tumor tissue contained large amounts of the fusobacterium. Scientists have been giving much more attention in the last ten years to the environment in which cancer cells live. In the case of colorectal cancer, the environment is heavily populated with the same bacteria found in the mouth. This particular bacterium is also associated with inflammatory bowel diseases such as ulcerative colitis, which can put people at a higher risk of developing colon cancer.
The colon is a part of the digestive system prior to the waste material of the body being eliminated. Most colon cancer starts off as a polyp, although not all polyps are cancerous. A polyp is a growth that starts in the tissue lining. Left unchecked, a polyp may grow, become cancerous and metastasize to other parts of the body. One of the reasons this is the second leading cause of cancer deaths is that the colon is highly vascularized which leads to higher metastasis and growth rate. Also cells of the colon reproduce frequently or turn over very rapidly, unlike brain cells. This rapid growth also causes the cancer cells to grow faster. Effective prevention of colon cancer has always been diet high in fiber, early detection through colonoscopies and removal of polyps. It appears there may also be another weapon to add to this deterrence arsenal: prevention and treatment of periodontal disease.
Periodontal disease and tooth decay are the most prevalent diseases on the planet earth. It is a chronic infectious inflammation of the teeth and gums. Although late stages of periodontal disease show signs, early stages do not. The signs of this gum disease are: bad breath that won’t go away, red or swollen gums, tender or bleeding gums, painful chewing, loose teeth, and sensitive teeth. Both periodontal disease and tooth decay (or gingivitis) is caused by bacteria. There are hundreds of different species of bacteria in the mouth. Fusobacterium is just one. The mouth is a dark, moist, acidic environment with a constant warm temperature and a steady supply of carbohydrates. These are ideal bacteria growing conditions – particularly in between teeth and under the gum line.
It has not yet been determined whether the fusobacterium found in colon cancer is essential for the cancer to grow or whether it just affords a favorable environment for the bacterium. In either case, it is suggested that those with periodontal disease run a higher risk of colon cancer. It is important to treat the gum disease and lower the fusobacterium in the mouth. It is becoming evident that periodontal disease is linked to many systemic diseases including heart disease, COPD, arthritis, diabetes, etc. Thus, periodontal disease not only affects the gums and teeth, it affects the whole body. Regular professional cleanings and diligent home oral care are essential in preventing and treating periodontal disease.