Dye Test Can Identify Oral Abnormalities at Risk of Turning Malignant: Study

Canadian researchers have discovered that a dye commonly used to identify oral cancers can also be used to predict if pre-cancerous oral abnormalities are likely to become malignant.

Oral lesions that absorb the dye, known as toluidine blue, were six times more likely to turn malignant and contained molecular alterations that are linked to high risk of oral cancer, even at early stages, the multidisciplinary team from several universities and medical centers in British Columbia reported.

In the United States, more than 30,000 people will be diagnosed with oral cancer this year, according to the American Cancer Society. The five-year survival rate for oral cancer has remained steady at 40 to 50 percent over the past several decades.

Toluidine blue is commonly used in diagnosing oral cancers but the Canadian study is the first to link pre-cancerous lesions - usually identified as white or red patches in the mouth - that absorb the dye with a higher risk for squamous cell carcinomas, the Canadian team said.

"The disease is usually identified fairly late in progression" said senior study author Miriam Rosin, Ph.D., director of the BC Cancer Agency's British Columbia Oral Cancer Prevention Program. "At that stage, it is frequently not amenable to the successful intervention we'd like. The whole deal of changing survival outcome is that you have to get at the disease earlier."

"With enough training of those who are doing the screening, the dye should help the clinicians find those patients with lesions that should really be moved forward for assessment," Dr. Rosin added.

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