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Swish and Spit Test Provides Early Evidence of Oral Cancer

Studies show that epithelial cells of the mouth collected by a simple "swish and spit" method can be used to detect potential early evidence of oral cancer.

While researchers at the University of Buffalo and Roswell Park Cancer Institute say the studies are preliminary, the findings could lead to a simple, routine and inexpensive way to detect oral cancer in its earliest stages. More than 34,000 Americans will be diagnosed with oral or pharyngeal cancer in 2008 and only half of those will be alive in five years, according to the Oral Cancer Foundation. Oral cancer is the 6th most common cancer worldwide.

The cancer marker studied, say researchers, is a fibrous protein molecule known as cytokeratin 8 (CK8).

"This cytokeratin has emerged recently as a potential cellular marker of pre-malignant changes in oral epithelial cells and of increased risk of cancer development," said Jennifer Frustino, a predoctoral student at the UB School of Dental Medicine and first author on the study.

"These markers are especially useful because they are abundant, stable and easily stained and detected," Ms. Frustino said. "Cytokeratin 8 expression is closely related to abnormalities of epithelial cells and shows a positive correlation with the development of head and neck squamous cell carcinoma."

Epithelial cells line all internal and external body surfaces. To conduct the study, saliva samples were collected from eight subjects with oral cancer or a history of abnormal oral lesions and five healthy controls. Participants brushed and rinsed with saline before providing the saliva sample containing cheek cells.

The results showed that the percentage of cells with CK8 was significantly higher in the cancer/abnormal samples than in samples from the normal controls.

"This is the first study that detects CK8 as a biomarker through an easy collection method and simple analysis. The study is continuing and the results remain promising as more patients are enrolled," said Ms. Frustino. "Early detection is critically important in diagnosing and managing oral cancer.

"CK8 manifests as an early biomarker in malignancy," she continued, "This marker may someday provide a focused target for early detection through a simple test done routinely in a dental office."

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

©2010 American Dental Association. All rights reserved. Reproduction or republication is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission from the American Dental Association.

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