Saliva test could detect breast cancer
Dentists may soon use saliva to make early, non-invasive diagnoses for breast cancers.
The onset of breast cancer produces a change in the normal type and amount of proteins in glandular secretions from the salivary glands. Researchers at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston know what to look for and published their study findings this month in "Cancer Investigation."
The ultimate goal is to bring a diagnostic saliva test, which is capable of detecting cancer before a tumor forms, into dental offices or other health care facilities. The technology aims to enable health care providers to provide quick, accurate diagnostic information and physician referrals to their patients.
"Why not the dentist?" asked Dr. Charles Streckfus, a lead researcher of the study. "Most folks, especially women and children, visit the dental office way more often than they ever see the physician. Saliva is a non-invasive, quicker way for detection."
Dr. William Dubinsky, who collaborated with Dr. Streckfus on the groundbreaking study, said saliva holds the codes to many medical secrets.
"Saliva is a complex mixture of proteins. We go through a process that compares different samples by chemically labeling them in such a way that we can not only identify the protein, but determine how much of it is in each sample," said Dr. Dubinsky. "This allows us to compare the levels of 150-200 different proteins in cancerous versus non-cancerous specimens to identify possible markers for disease."
In the study, researchers analyzed saliva samples from 30 patients. They found 49 proteins that differentiated healthy patients from those with benign breast tumors and those with malignant breast tumors.
Dr. Streckfus said that being able to chemically distinguish between benign and malignant tumors through a saliva test eliminates possible false positive results. The supplemental chemical confirmation could allow experts to immediately determine the patient's next treatment option, whether it be surgery, a biopsy or further testing.
Dr. Streckfus and his collaborators are continuing to pursue salivary diagnostics for other types of cancer, such as ovarian, endometrial, cervical and head and neck cancers.
©2010 American Dental Association. All rights reserved. Reproduction or republication is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission from the American Dental Association.