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Proteins that can be detected within saliva may be effective in identifying the presence of oral cancer. These results were recently published in Clinical Cancer Research.

Oral cancer refers to cancer that originates anywhere in the mouth, such as the tongue, lips, gums, roof or floor of the mouth, or part of the throat at the back of the mouth. Each year, 29,000 individuals are diagnosed with oral cancer in the United States, with past use of alcohol or tobacco, prior head and neck cancer, male gender and older age associated with an increased risk of developing the disease.?White or red patches, bleeding, loose teeth, earaches, or swollen lymph nodes may be signs of oral cancer.

Standard therapies for oral cancer include chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery. Early detection of oral cancer is important as it is associated with improved outcomes and reduced deformity from surgery compared to more advanced stages. Thus, non-invasive and accurate screening measures are being evaluated in the early detection of oral cancer.

Researchers from the University of California at Los Angeles recently conducted a clinical trial to evaluate the effectiveness of certain proteins in saliva samples in identifying oral cancer. The trial included 64 patients with oral squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC) and 64 healthy patients, all of whom gave saliva samples. Five distinct proteins were identified that appeared to be associated with the presence of oral cancer.?

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  • 90% of oral cancers were identified by the protein markers
  • The majority of patients who did not have oral cancer (83%) tested negative for cancer with this test

The researchers concluded that ?The discovery of these new targets may lead to a simple clinical tool for the noninvasive diagnosis of oral cancer.? The authors state that future trials evaluating this approach are warranted with the ultimate goal of screening individuals who are at a high risk of developing oral cancer.

Reference: Hu S, Arellano M, Boontheung P, et al. Salivary Proteomics for Oral Cancer Biomarker Discovery. Clinical Cancer Research. 2008; 14: 6246-6252.