Proposal of a saliva test for oral cancer

A surgeon from a university in the USA is hoping that he, alongside a dental benefits company, may be able to produce a cheap saliva test to diagnose mouth cancer. They are launching a clinical trial of 100–120 patients who have white lesions in their mouth or on their tonsils to see if a saliva test will be able to identify biomarkers previously found to be present in oral cancer.

Currently oral cancer is detected through a biopsy following symptoms such as a sore throat, tooth ache or swelling in the neck. It is hoped that the saliva test could prevent unnecessary biopsies and improve the accuracy of diagnosis. Professor Barry Wenig, from Michigan State University, has elaborated by stating that “most white lesions are benign, so a majority of people who develop them are getting biopsies that are not needed… a simple test would allow us to identify those patients with malignant lesions and get them into treatment quicker.”

Mouth cancer is the world’s sixth most common cancer and has a poor survival rate with only 60% of patients surviving for five years after diagnosis. Professor Wenig has previously been working in collaboration with researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, where they have been researching a number of diagnostic salivary tests for other cancers including head and neck cancer.

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