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Logo of nihpaAbout Author manuscriptsSubmit a manuscriptHHS Public Access; Author Manuscript; Accepted for publication in peer reviewed journal;
Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2017 May 1.
Published in final edited form as:
PMCID: PMC4876638

Periodontal Disease and Breast Cancer–Response

In our recent paper, we found that among the postmenopausal women in the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) Observational Study (OS), periodontal disease was associated with increased risk of breast cancer, particularly among smokers (1). As we indicated in our paper, there are a number of potential mechanisms that could explain this association including inflammation. It is known that periodontal disease is associated with chronic systemic inflammation and increased C-reactive protein (2,3).

Dr. Grant suggests that vitamin D status, which can impact systemic inflammation, might explain the association between periodontal disease and increased risk of breast cancer. While there is some evidence to suggest an association between low 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25[OH]D) concentrations and increased periodontal disease, in the Buffalo Osteoporosis and Periodontal Disease Study (4), an ancillary study of periodontal disease in the WHI OS, no association was observed between blood 25(OH)D concentrations and incident periodontal disease in the 5-year follow-up of study participants (5). The evidence of vitamin D as a risk factor for breast cancer in WHI OS is weak (68). No association was observed between latitude of clinic center and breast cancer incidence in the WHI OS (6). In the randomized trial of vitamin D and calcium in the WHI, neither the vitamin D and calcium intervention (7) nor a baseline measure of serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D (8) were associated with risk of breast cancer. Based on this evidence, it seems unlikely that vitamin D status would be a strong confounder of our observed association.

Identification of mechanism is of course of importance in understanding and utilizing epidemiologic findings for potential prevention. Other studies with more detailed biological data regarding exposures (e.g., of periodontal disease including periodontal pathogens, changes in oral bone, and blood measures of inflammation) and of tumor characteristics are required to better understand the mechanism of our observations.


1. Freudenheim JL, Genco RJ, LaMonte MJ, Millen AE, Hovey KM, Mai X, Nwizu N, Andrews CA, Wactawski-Wende J. Periodontal disease and breast cancer risk in the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study (WHI OS) Ca Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2016;25(1):43–50.
2. Joshipura KJ, Wand HC, Merchant AT, Rimm EB. Periodontal disease and biomarkers related to cardiovascular disease. J Dent Res. 2004;83:151–5. [PubMed]
3. Noack B, Genco RJ, Trevisan M, Gross S, Zambon JJ, De Nardin E. Periodontal infections contribute to elevated systemic C-reactive protein level. J Periodontol. 2001;72:1221–7. [PubMed]
4. Millen AE, Andrews CA, LaMonte MJ, Hovey KM, Swanson M, Genco RJ, Wactawski-Wende J. Vitamin D status and 5-year changes in periodontal disease measures among postmenopausal women: The Buffalo OsteoPerio Study. J Periodontol. 2014;85(10):1321–32. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
5. Sahli MW, Wactawski-Wende J, Ram PK, LaMonte MJ, Hovey KM, Genco RJ, Andrews CA, Millen AE. Association of plasma 25-hydroxyvitamin D concentrations and pathogentic oral bacteria in postmenopausal females. J Periodontol. 2014;85(7):944–55. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
6. Millen AE, Pettinger M, Freudenheim JL, Langer RD, Rosenberg CA, Mossavar-Rahmani Y, Duffy CM, Lane DS, McTiernan A, Kuller LH, Lopez AM, Wactawski-Wende J. Incident, invasive breast cancer, geographic location of residence and reported average time spent outside. Ca Epidemol Biomarkers Prev. 2009;18(2):495–507. [PubMed]
7. Brunner RL, Wactawski-Wende J, Caan BJ, Cochrane BB, Chlebowski RT, Gass ML, Jacobs ET, LaCroix AZ, Lane D, Larson J, Margolis KL, Millen AE, Sarto GE, Vitolins MZ, Wallace RB. The effect of calcium plus vitamin D on risk for invasive cancer: Results of the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) calcium plus vitamin D randomized clinical trial. Nutr Ca. 2011;63:827–41. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
8. Neuhouser ML, Manson JE, Millen A, Pettinger M, Margolis K, Jacobs ET, Shikany JM, Vitonlins M, Adams-Campbell L, Liu S, LeBlanc E, Johnson KC, Wactawski-Wende J. The influence of health and lifestyle characteristics on the relation of serum 25-hydorxyvitamin D with risk of colorectal and breast cancer in postmenopausal women. Am J Epidemiol. 2012;175(7):673–84. [PMC free article] [PubMed]