Development & Alumni Relations Office 

Queen's researchers find poor oral health is linked to a 75% increase in liver cancer risk

20 June 2019

The study by Queen’s, analysed a cohort of 469,000 people in the UK, investigated the association between oral health conditions and the risk of a number of gastrointestinal cancers, including liver cancer.

Models were applied to estimate the relationship between cancer risk and self-reported oral health conditions, such as painful or bleeding gums, mouth ulcers and loose teeth. 

Whilst no significant associations were observed on the risk of the majority gastrointestinal cancers and poor oral health, a substantial link was found for hepatobiliary cancer.  

“Poor oral health has been associated with the risk of several chronic diseases, such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes”, explained Dr Haydée WT Jordão, from the Centre of Public Health at Queen’s University Belfast and lead author of the study.

“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.”

Of the 469,628 participants, 4,069 developed gastrointestinal cancer during the (average) six-year follow up. In 13% of these cases, patients reported poor oral health. Participants with poor oral health were more likely to be younger, female, living in deprived socioeconomic areas and consumed less than two portions of fruit and vegetables per day.

The biological mechanisms by which poor oral health may be more strongly associated with liver cancer, rather than other digestive cancers, is currently uncertain.

“The liver contributes to the elimination of bacteria from the human body”, stated Dr Jordão. “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.”

Liver cancer is the sixth bigger cancer killer in the EU, claiming the lives of almost 60,000 people per year. The five-year survival rate for the disease across Europe is just 11% and approximately 9 in 10 cases are in individuals over the age of 55 ref media pack. It is believed that up to half of cases of liver cancer are preventable, with risk factors often relating to lifestyle.

The Centre for Public Health is committed to identifying epidemiological and genetic risk factors on public health and chronic disease. They also work closely with the NHS to develop clinical trials and influence the development of public policies.


Want to support medical research at Queen’s? Our University relies on generosity from private donors to fund our life-changing medical research programmes. Find out more about how you can donate here, or contact Teresa Sloan, Head of Health Fundraising, by telephone at +44 (0)28 9097 5394. If you would like to fundraise for Queen’s research programmes, you can find out more about supporting us at an event here or contact a member of the DARO team.

Medical queries arising from this news story should be raised directly with a medical professional.

For general enquiries about this story, contact Communications Officer on telephone: +44 (0)28 9097 5292.


Back to Main News









Top of Page