Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started
My Medicine

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Cancer Health Center

Font Size

Saliva Test Spots Cancer

Test Looks for Genetic Fingerprints That Signal Early Oral Cancer
WebMD Health News

April 19, 2005 (Anaheim, Calif.) -- Don't be shocked if your doctor asks you to spit into a cup during a checkup in the near future. A new study shows that a simple saliva test can detect cancer of the mouth and throat at its earliest stages, even before symptoms develop.

The test looks for distinct genetic differences in saliva and is over 90% accurate in detecting oral cancer, says David T. Wong, DMD, DMSc, associate dean of research at the UCLA School of Dentistry and the Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center.

His team has already shown that the approach has similar predictive powers for head and neck cancers. And now they're testing the saliva screen in breast cancer patients as well.

"In the future, one drop of saliva could be screened for all sorts of diseases, not just cancer," Wong tells WebMD. "Unlike tests that require drawing blood, a saliva test is totally noninvasive."

The findings were presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research.

Genetic Fingerprint Points to Cancer

Analyzing markers in saliva, blood, or other body fluids that signal early cancer has long been a goal of scientists seeking quick, easy, and reliable screening tests that can be done in a doctor's office.

Many researchers have focused on detecting the proteins produced by cancers. But Wong's team decided to look at the products of these genes, called RNA.

It wasn't easy developing the test. The breakthrough came only about three years ago, when engineers developed high-tech, highly sensitive sensors that can detect molecules at minute levels, he says.

The new study shows that the distinct patterns are not only measurable in saliva but can also indicate a developing tumor, he says.

The test showed that saliva contains 3,000 RNA markers. However, Wong's team shows that four patterns created by products of these genes are enough to pinpoint oral cancer.

The study included 64 people with oral cancer and 64 people without cancer.

The presence of these four patterns predicted with 91% accuracy whether a saliva sample was from a person with oral cancer or a person without it, Wong says.

Then, the researchers looked at the genetic profile in the participants' blood.

The researchers found a similar pattern for oral cancer in blood as well. "But the accuracy was only 88%. At least for oral cancer, saliva has a slight edge over blood testing."

By 2007, the researchers hope to identify genetic signatures for at least 10 common diseases, including other cancers, heart disease, and diabetes, Wong says.

Today on WebMD

Colorectal cancer cells
New! I AM Not Cancer Facebook Group
Lung cancer xray
See it in pictures, plus read the facts.
sauteed cherry tomatoes
Fight cancer one plate at a time.
Ovarian cancer illustration
Real Cancer Perspectives
Jennifer Goodman Linn self-portrait
what is your cancer risk
colorectal cancer treatment advances
breast cancer overview slideshow
prostate cancer overview
lung cancer overview slideshow
ovarian cancer overview slideshow
Actor Michael Douglas