Science Friday: Saliva Test May Help Dentists Detect Oral Cancer Sooner

Science Friday: Saliva Test May Help Dentists Detect Oral Cancer SoonerMichigan State University surgeon Barry Wenig is teaming up with a Lansing-area dental benefits firm on a clinical trial to create a simple, cost-effective saliva test to detect oral cancer, a breakthrough that would drastically improve early oral cancer screening.

It is estimated that oral cancer kills one person, every hour, every single day.

Trimira’s Vice President Jerry Trzeciak states that “Oral cancer is typically detected by a doctor, not a dentist, by which time it is usually a late-stage diagnosis,” he said. “In fact, 40 percent of those diagnosed with oral cancer will be dead in five years and 78% diagnosed with Stage IV, late-stage cancer will be dead in five years. Early detection of oral cancer would improve the survival rate to 80 to 90%.”

Trzeciak noted that fewer than 15% of those who visit a dentist get screened regularly; rarely is the best available technology used.

“When you look at the five-year mortality rate for oral cancer, it’s scary,” Trzeciak said at the AAOMS 91st Annual Meeting in Toronto. “Oral cancer is more deadly than the more familiar cancers: breast, cervical, and prostate, and also more deadly than liver, kidney, thyroid, or colon cancers.”

Oral cancer is growing at double-digit rates, despite declines in alcohol and tobacco use. That is due to HPV-16 and -18 spread through all forms of sex, but particularly oral sex. For that reason, oral cancer is increasingly showing up in the young adult population. The fastest-growing group is females in their forties.

According to the Times, Wenig, a professor in the College of Human Medicine’s Department of Surgery and lead investigator on the project, is working with Delta Dental of Michigan’s Research and Data Institute to compile study data and recruit dentists.

The study will enrol 100-120 patients with white lesions or growths in their mouths and tonsil areas to test as part of the clinical trial.

Wenig and his team will be looking for certain biomarkers previously identified by researchers at UCLA; the biomarkers have been shown in studies to confirm the presence of oral cancer.

By creating a simple saliva test which could identify the biomarker’s presence, physicians and dentists would know which patients need treatment and which ones could avoid needless and invasive biopsies.

Wenig is collaborating with PeriRx, a Pennsylvania company that will sponsor upcoming trials with the Food and Drug Administration.

For more on this story see: Simple Saliva Test to Detect Oral Cancer Early

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