A simple screen of proteins in human saliva can accurately detect a common type of oral cancer, a US study reveals.
The finding may lead to a painless new diagnostic test.
The test can predict the mouth cancer in 93% of cases, a team at the University of California Los Angeles reported in the journal Clinical Cancer Research.
It is among the first of a new set of spit-based diagnostic tests expected to arise from a protein map of human saliva developed by researchers at UCLA and other centres.
The map, published in March, identified all 1,116 unique proteins found in human saliva glands.
The latest findings focus on oral squamous cell carcinoma, which affects more than 300,000 people worldwide.
More than 90% of cancers that start in the mouth are squamous cell cancers, according to the American Cancer Society.
Researchers at UCLA’s School of Dentistry collected saliva samples from 64 patients with oral squamous cell carcinoma and compared them with samples from 64 healthy patients.
They found that five protein biomarkers – M2BP, MRP14, CD59, profilin and catalase – predicted oral cancer 93% of the time.
The UCLA team is developing devices to detect these markers that could be studied in human trials.
Earlier this year, a team at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore said it was working on a saliva test that could spot diseases like mouth and throat cancer in heavy smokers, heavy drinkers and others at high risk.
They identified more than half of the people in the study who had cancer.