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Could Good Oral Hygiene Prevent Cancer?

Human body with cancer cells spreading and growingYou knew brushing and flossing could prevent cavities, bad breath and gum disease.  Perhaps you even knew that good oral hygiene could reduce your risk of heart disease.  But did you know that these habits could also reduce your risk of cancer?

Research conducted by a team from Hebrew University’s School of Medicine and School of Dental Medicine discovered that an oral bacteria known as Fusobacterium nucleatum impairs the ability of the immune system to fight cancer.

Dr. Ofer Mandelboim and Dr. Gilad Bachrach, co-authors of the study, found that when the bacteria encountered colon cancer cells, the cancer cells were better able to defend themselves against TIGIT, a specific type of immune cell that has recently been discovered to block the spread of cancer.

Nucleatum is associated with a variety of ill effects, including premature birth, stillbirth and heart disease.  The US National Institute of Health reports a case of a woman who had gingivitis associated with pregnancy.  She developed a respiratory infection and her baby was stillborn.  It is suspected that the respiratory infection weakened her immune system enough that the bacteria was able to enter her bloodstream and migrate to her uterus, affecting her unborn child.

The question arises, how does the bacteria migrate from the mouth to the uterus, heart, colon, or other organs?  The bacteria enters the bloodstream through pockets in the gums caused by gingivitis.

The bacteria’s record made it a logical focus for studying its effects on cancer after the researchers found the bacteria in human colorectal cancer cells.  This is the first study to demonstrate a solid connection between the presence of the bacteria and worsening of the condition of some cancer patients.

The study showed that the Fap2, a protein in the outer membrane of the bacteria, bound itself to the TIGIT and prevented them from attacking cancer cells.

This discovery could lead to the development of new treatment options.  If F. nucleatum interferes with the body’s ability to attack cancer cells, then blocking the bacteria from interacting with the cancer cells or immune cells may support the ability of the body to attack the cancer and keep it from spreading.

The researchers expect to next look for ways to improve the prognosis of cancer patients by either removing the offending protein from F. nucleatum, or rendering it unable to bind with the TIGIT cells.

Individual cancer risk is complicated and influenced by a variety of factors, including age, environment, genetics, and lifestyle.  Good oral hygiene may have limited effect on your risk, but it will keep your bacteria levels in check and prevent its entry into the bloodstream.  Just one more reason to brush and floss every day.


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