Blood, saliva prototype finds most oral cancers
A new test that uses blood and saliva to detect head and neck cancers has shown promise in a small number of patients, researchers said Wednesday.
While it will likely be years before the test is available to the public, the findings by researchers at Johns Hopkins University have raised hope for a cheap screening test that dentists or doctors could one day deliver during regular office visits.
Head and neck cancers affect some 50,000 people in the United States each year and are on the rise among men. The main risk factors are alcohol, smoking and human papillomavirus (HPV), a common sexually transmitted infection that often goes undetected.
“We have shown that tumor DNA in the blood or saliva can successfully be measured for these cancers,” said lead author Nishant Agrawal, associate professor of otolaryngology and oncology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
The study involved 93 patients with cancer that had been diagnosed.
In patients known to have HPVdriven cancers, scientists searched patients’ blood and saliva samples for certain tumor-promoting, HPVrelated DNA.
In those with cancer not linked to HPV, they looked for mutations in a handful of cancer-related genes.
The researchers found tumor DNA in the saliva of 71 of the 93 patients (76 percent) and in the blood of 41 of the 47 (87 percent).
About half of the patients provided both saliva and blood samples to the scientists, and the combined tests found tumor DNA in 45 of those 47 people (96 percent).
“Combining blood and saliva tests may offer the best chance of finding cancer,” said Agrawal.
More trials on a larger number of patients are needed before the test can seek market approval.
An early form of the test may costs thousands of dollars, but down the road it could be offered for US$50 in a dentist’s office or primary care setting, the researchers said.