Make Oral Health a Priority in Cancer Care

Undergoing treatment for cancer can be a scary and stressful ordeal, especially if surgery is required. With so many things to remember and arrangements to be made for before and after care, it's easy to forget important steps along the way. But researchers are now saying that one surprising step in pre-op care could literally be the difference between life and death, post operation.

A recent study in the British Journal of Surgery suggests that patients who are scheduled to undergo surgery for cancer treatment should brush up on their oral health prior to heading to the operating room.

The study, which was conducted at the University of Tokyo in Japan, found that patients who received oral care prior to cancer surgery had a lower risk of pneumonia following their surgery than those who did not see a dentist before surgery. Post-operative pneumonia can be fatal, thanks to microorganisms and bacteria that may be aspirated from the mouth to the lungs following surgery. Combined with a weakened immune system, this combination is frequently deadly.

"The bacteria commonly found in the mouth can do some serious damage if not removed, even for a healthy person," says Bellmore, New York, dentist Dr. Gary Lederman. "But to an immune-compromised person, these bacteria can be devastating."

The report studied 509,000 patients who underwent cancer surgery between 2012 and 2015. A mere 81,600 received oral health treatment prior to surgery. Of the patients studied, 15,700 developed post-operative pneumonia, and 1,700 died within 30 days of surgery. Among those who had received oral health care prior to their surgery, a half-percentage point fewer died from pneumonia. While that number is admittedly slim, when you consider the difference between how many patients had surgery versus how many had oral health care prior to the surgery, that number makes a much bigger statement.

"The bottom line of the study is that we do see a small difference in survival rates in patients who have had recent oral health care," says Lederman. "And when it comes to cancer, any increase in survival odds is better than none."



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