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Saliva tests could be used to detect oral cancer

Scientists from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research report they have isolated four distinct patterns of messenger RNA in saliva that can be used to distinguish with a high level accuracy between healthy people and those diagnosed with a particular type of oral cancer.

Messenger RNA, the molecular intermediary between gene and protein that indicates an individual gene has been expressed, is found in abundance in the saliva. The NIDCR scientists identified about 3,000 chemically distinct mRNAs in human saliva.

Using samples from 32 patients diagnosed with oral squamous cell carcinoma but not yet undergoing treatment, they found that 1,679 genes were expressed at significantly different levels in cancer patients compared to healthy patients, as indicated by the mRNA present.

They eventually narrowed the list of mRNAs down to four that could be used to detect the presence of oral cancer with 91 percent accuracy. And the sensitivity and specificity of the saliva tests were as good or better than reference work done with blood samples, they reported.

The scientists noted that the mRNA patterns in saliva may be informative for other cancers and common diseases as well. Future research will seek to increase the accuracy with which the presence of cancer can be predicted based on the mRNA as close to 100 percent as possible.

Please contact the ADA if you have questions about this article.

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