Damage to cells lining the mouth can predict similar damage in the lungs that eventually leads to lung cancer in smokers, US research reveals.
Scientists hope it’ll eventually be possible to swab the mouths of smokers to predict who is developing lung cancer, thereby avoiding painful and dangerous biopsies of the lung.
The process may also lead to tests that will predict other cancers, said Dr. Li Mao, an expert in head, neck and lung cancer at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.
‘Our study opens the door to enhancing our ability to predict who has higher probability of getting tobacco-related cancers,’ Mao said in a statement.
‘Not only lung cancer, but pancreatic, bladder and head and neck cancers, which also are associated with tobacco use.’
Lung cancer causes few symptoms until it is advanced, which means patients are rarely diagnosed or treated until it is too late for a cure.
Mao’s team looked at two genes known to help prevent the development of cancer – p16 and FHIT.
‘There is substantial damage (to the two genes) long before there is cancer,’ Mao said.
Speaking to a meeting of the American Association for Cancer, they said they looked for specific damage to these genes in both lung samples and mouth samples from 125 long-time smokers.
‘We are talking about just a brushing inside of the cheek to get the same information we would from lung brushings obtained through bronchoscopy,’ said study presenter and first author Manisha Bhutani, M.D., a post-doctoral fellow in Thoracic/Head and Neck Medical Oncology.