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New oral cancer test zeroes in on proteins in saliva

A newly developed screen of proteins in saliva can detect a common type of oral cancer, University of California-Los Angeles School of Dentistry researchers announced recently.

Testing human saliva accurately predicted oral cancer in 93 percent of cases. Researchers said the finding could lead to a new painless way to test for oral cancer.

The discovery is one of several potential diagnostic tests resulting from a protein map of human saliva that identified all 1,116 unique proteins in saliva glands. The UCLA researchers were involved in the protein map as well.

More than 90 percent of cancers that start in the mouth are squamous cell cancers, which affect more than 300,000 people worldwide.

UCLA dental school researchers collected saliva samples from 64 patients with this type of oral cancer, comparing them with the samples of 64 healthy patients. Five protein biomarkers predicted oral cancer 93 percent of the time.

Many oral cancers are detected by dentists. Oral cancer often starts as a tiny, unnoticed white or red spot or sore anywhere in the mouth. It can affect any area of the oral cavity including the lips, gum tissue, cheek lining, tongue and the hard or soft palate.

Other signs of oral cancer include a sore that bleeds easily or does not heal; a color change of the oral tissues; a lump, thickening, rough spot, crust or small eroded area; pain, tenderness or numbness anywhere in the mouth or on the lips; difficulty chewing, swallowing, speaking or moving the jaw or tongue; or a change in the way the teeth fit together.

For more information on oral cancer, talk to your dentist or visit the American Dental Association Web site at

©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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