US scientists are developing a test that will allow dentists to check patients’ saliva for signs of breast cancer.
Experts have identified proteins that can diagnose the disease and the saliva can be examined for these marker proteins.
Catherine Flaitz, dean of the University of Texas Dental Branch, where the clinical trials are being carried out, said: ‘Dentistry has entered an exciting new era.’
Researchers in Houston analysed saliva samples from 30 patients and found 49 proteins that differentiated those who were healthy and those who had breast cancer tumours.
Crucially, the proteins could also distinguish between tumours that were benign or malignant.
The scientists see the test being used alongside existing detection tools – mammograms, ultrasound and tissue sample analysis.
Information from the saliva test could eliminate possible false positive results and allow doctors to make better treatment decisions.
The scientists are also investigating the use of saliva to spot other cancers, including cervical cancer.
Professor Charles Streckfus, who led the research, said dentists were well placed to spot diseases other than dental caries.
But UK dental experts suggest that the test may be more appropriate for use by GPs.
Professor Damien Walmsley, scientific adviser at the British Dental Association (BDA), said: ‘Maybe one day it will be feasible to go to the dentist to be screened for a variety of disorders in the body, including breast cancer, though it’s more likely that the test will be done in specialist centres or by your GP.’
Saliva is used as a non-invasive diagnostic tool for many diseases, including cancers, and – in the case of breast cancer – saliva analysis is often used to monitor patient-response to chemotherapy or surgical treatment of the disease.