Specific Oral Bacteria May Reduce Risk for Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Carcinoma on the tonsil
Carcinoma on the tonsil
The findings may have implications for cancer prevention.

An increased abundance of Corynebacterium and Kingella in the oral microbiome may be associated with a decreased risk for head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC), according to a study published in JAMA Oncology.

Richard B. Hayes, DDS, PhD, from New York University School of Medicine in New York, and colleagues sought to assess possible links between the oral microbiome and subsequent risk for HNSCC. The prospective study included cases from 2 large cohorts (n=129) and 254 matched controls. Researchers analyzed oral microbiome composition by sequencing the 16S ribosomal RNA gene.

After analysis of the overall microbiome and specific bacterial abundancies, data showed that an increased quantity of order Corynebacteriales, family Corynebacteriaceae, and genus Corynebacterium were linked to a reduced risk for HNSCC (Corynebacterium: 0.58; 95% CI, 0.41-0.80; P =.001). Class Betaproteobacteria, order Neisseriales, family Neisseriaceae, and genus Kingella in phylum Proteobacteria were also linked to a reduced risk for HNSCC (Kingella: 0.63; 95% CI, 0.46-0.86; P =.003).

Both associations remained significant after adjustment in multivariable models, which suggests that each bacteria has an independent association for reduced HNSCC. In addition, 3 species — Prevotella nanceiensis, Capnocytophaga leadbetteri, and Selenomonas sputigena — were inversely related to HNSCC (P <.05).

The associations may be due to the carcinogen metabolism capabilities of Corynebacterium and Kingella, including the capacity to metabolize toxicants found in cigarette smoke. The preventative effects of Corynebacterium and Kingella may be more prominent in high-carcinogen environments.

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The investigators noted that the findings may be limited by the measurement of only one oral sample and by the limited diversity of the cohort.

“Maintenance of a healthy oral microbiome is essential to oral health,” concluded the investigators. “Our findings may have implications for HNSCC prevention in conjunction with other control measures.”


Hayes RB, Ahn J, Fan X, et al. Association of oral microbiome with risk for incident head and neck squamous cell cancer [published online January 11, 2018]. JAMA Oncol. doi:10.1001/jamaoncol.2017/4777