Some types of bacteria that lead to gum disease are associated with a higher risk of oesophageal cancer, an analysis has shown. Jiyoung Ahn, of the Laura and Isaac Perlmutter Center at NYU Langone Health in New York, explains in the journal Cancer Research.

Oesophageal cancer is the eighth most common cancer and the sixth leading cause of cancer death worldwide, he says: “There is an urgent need for new avenues of prevention, risk stratification, and early detection”.

Previous research has shown that gum disease caused by certain oral microbiota has been associated with several types of cancer, including oral and head and neck cancers. This study examined whether oral microbiota were associated with subsequent risk of oesophageal adenocarcinoma (OAC) or oesophageal squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC).

Ahn and colleagues collected oral wash samples from 122,000 participants in two large health studies. In 10 years of follow-up, 106 participants developed oesophageal cancer. In a prospective case-control study, the researchers extracted DNA and sequenced oral wash samples, allowing researchers to compare the oral microbiomes of the oesophageal cancer cases and the cancer-free cases.

Certain bacteria types were associated with a higher risk of oesophageal cancer. These types of bacteria are linked with common gum disease. The study showed that a few types of oral bacteria were associated with a lower risk of oesophageal cancer.

Ahn said certain bacteria may have a protective effect, and future research could potentially examine whether these bacteria could play a role in preventing oesophageal cancer.