Poor oral health could raise risk of liver cancer by 75%

Liver cancer: Expert discusses symptoms and treatments

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According to a study by a team at Queen’s University Belfast, poor oral hygiene could significantly increase the risk of developing liver cancer. The research, published in the United European Gastroenterology journal, found that those suffering conditions such as painful or bleeding gums, mouth ulcers and loose teeth were 75 percent more likely to have hepatocellular carcinoma. This is the most common form of primary liver cancer.

As part of the study, academics analysed a cohort of over 469,000 people in the UK, and investigated the link between oral health conditions and the risk of a number of gastrointestinal cancers including liver, colon, rectum and pancreatic cancer.

Of the participants, 4,069 developed gastrointestinal cancer over a six-year period.

And in 13 percent of these cases, patients reported poor oral health.

The academics noted that those with poor oral health were more likely to be younger, female and living in deprived areas.

On average they ate less than two portions of fruit and vegetables per day.

Doctor Haydée Jordão, from the centre of public health at Queen’s University Belfast and lead author of the study, explained: “Poor oral health has been associated with the risk of several chronic diseases, such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

“However, there is inconsistent evidence on the association between poor oral health and specific types of gastrointestinal cancers, which is what our research aimed to examine.”

There are two main theories as to why there is a link between poor oral health and liver cancer, with the first considering the role of the oral and gut microbiome in disease development.

Dr Jordão said: “The liver contributes to the elimination of bacteria from the human body.

“When the liver is affected by diseases, such as hepatitis, cirrhosis or cancer, its function will decline and bacteria will survive for longer and therefore have the potential to cause more harm.

“One bacteria, Fusobacterium nucleatum, originates in the oral cavity but its role in liver cancer is unclear.

“Further studies investigating the microbiome and liver cancer are therefore warranted.”

The other is that those living with poor oral health conditions, such as missing teeth, are more likely to eat softer and potentially less nutritious foods, which could raise the risk of liver cancer.

Hepatocellular carcinoma is a type of liver cancer that develops from the main liver cells called hepatocytes.

Cancer Research UK says: “It’s more common in people with cirrhosis.”

Cirrhosis means that the liver has become badly scarred.

This is often due to damage from long-term alcohol drinking or the hepatitis B or C virus.

Men are usually more at risk of hepatocellular carcinoma and it becomes more common as you get older.

Symptoms of liver cancer include:

  • Weight loss
  • Yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice)
  • Itching
  • Feeling sick
  • Swollen tummy (abdomen)
  • Loss of appetite or feeling full after eating small amounts
  • Pain in your abdomen
  • A lump in the right side of your abdomen
  • Pain in your right shoulder.

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