July 7, 2005 -- Detecting oral cancer may one day be as easy as spitting into a cup, a new study suggests.
Researchers found people with oral cancer have higher levels of certain types of bacteria, and screening for these bacteria may offer a new way to diagnose the disease before it's too late.
Oral cancer is one of the deadliest forms of cancer with only slightly more than half of those with the disease living up to five years after their diagnosis. Most oral cancers are within the lining of the mouth. As they progress they spread to deeper layers of the lining of the mouth. The American Cancer Society estimates that about 29,000 cases of oral cancer will be diagnosed and about 7,000 people will die of this cancer in 2005.
However, early detection and treatment of oral cancer can increase cure rates by up to 80% to 90%.
Tobacco and drinking alcohol are the two biggest risk factors for oral cancer, but some people with the disease have no known risk factors.
Saliva Test May Screen for Oral Cancer
Cancerous tumors in the mouth and throat often cause no symptoms, and researchers say there is a need for an easy-to-use screening test to detect oral cancer.
The American Cancer Society recommends that doctors and dentists examine the mouth and throat for potentially cancerous growths during routine cancer-related checkups.
In the study, which appears in the current issue of the Journal of Translational Medicine, researchers looked at whether the bacteria found in people with oral cancer differed from those found in people without oral cancer.
Researchers analyzed saliva samples from 45 people with oral cancer and 45 healthy people. The groups were similar in age, sex, and smoking status.
Of the 40 different bacteria analyzed, the study showed that six common bacteria were found at significantly higher levels in people with oral cancer.
When researchers used three species of these bacteria to screen for oral cancer in the saliva samples, the tests correctly predicted more than 80% of the oral cancer cases.
Researchers say these findings may form the basis for the development of a noninvasive and inexpensive saliva test for diagnosing oral cancer.