New link found between oral bacteria and bowel cancer

A type of bacterium known to cause dental decay and skin ulcers may also be linked to bowel cancer, scientists suspect.

Two independent research teams have now found the bug Fusobacterium in colon tumours.

Bowel cancer is the third most common cancer in the UK after breast and lung. Around 35,000 people get diagnosed with bowel cancer every year.

Although the exact cause of bowel cancer is unknown, there are certain factors that increase risk, such as a strong family history of the disease and older age. It may be that Fusobacterium infection can be added to that list, according to the experts, but they say much more work is needed to establish this.

The infection has already been linked with a gut condition called ulcerative colitis which is itself a risk factor for bowel cancer. The link comes as scientists at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Broad Institute in America found an abnormally large number of Fusobacterium, a bacterium associated with the development of periodontal (gum) disease, in nine colorectal tumour samples, pointing to the possibility the two could be associated.

Although the lead scientists believe further research is needed to discover the extent of the link, it suggests the bacterium could be a factor in the development of cancer.

Sarah Williams, of Cancer Research UK, said that the research gave a clue about the environment in which bowel cancer grows, but that more specific, in-depth studies were needed. She added: “In the meantime, people can reduce their risk of bowel cancer by not smoking, cutting down on alcohol, keeping a healthy weight, being active, reducing the amount of red and processed meat in their diet and eating plenty of fibre.”

Chief Executive of the British Dental Health Foundation, Dr Nigel Carter, believes the research further highlights the importance of good oral health.

If you have swollen gums that bleed regularly when brushing, bad breath, loose teeth or regular mouth infections appear, it is likely you have gum disease. To avoid further deterioration in your oral health, visit your dentist for a thorough check-up and clean.