Science and medicine are making great progress on many fronts, and one of the more exciting promises to be is a quick and reliable test to easily detect cancer through what is termed “liquid biopsy.” In the future, according to researchers, the test may be easily performed with as little as a single drop of saliva and in only about 10 minutes. But further research is required, and the test, although it holds promise as an easy determinant for lung cancer, is not equally effective at identifying all cancers. The next target for researchers is on identifying oral cancer. It may be too early to be excited, but the research presented recently by a team of University of California researchers to the American Association for the Advancement of Science was met with great interest.
Dr. David Wong of UCLA and Gypsyamber D’Souza of John Hopkins notes that the 10-minute test can “detect and predict cancer with near-perfect accuracy.” The procedure is due for clinical tests in China on patients diagnosed with lung cancer. Dr. Wong reportedly hopes that approval may be granted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration within two years, and there are hopes that it may become available in England and Australia “by the end of the decade.”
The Promise of a Simple Test
Because cancers are so varied, and early symptoms can be so generalized, early detection of specific cancers has been a continuing goal of researchers. Diagnostics for some types of cancer are well-established, but there is currently no simple, cost-effective tests that can be easily administered. The saliva test is a breakthrough in that regard, according to reports, with the hope that it can be administered by a pharmacist, a dental professional or even through a home test kit.
According to some, that is also a concern in some quarters: Because it seems so easy, is there a greater chance for misinterpretation? At the least, say the researchers, it may be a beneficial way to determine that “a trip to the doctor” is a necessary next step.
Currently, the research has been focused on lung cancer, and belief that certain tumors circulate DNA through bodily fluids like blood and saliva. It is the genetic mutation markers that the saliva test is able to detect, even in very small samples, according to the research. A second breakthrough is that the results are rapid. It is readily apparent, in as little as 10 minutes, that there is an abnormality. The test is seen as an adjunct to other forms of detection and treatment, and may offer ongoing, non-invasive monitoring of disease.
Next Step: Targeting Oral Cancer
Dr. D’Souza states that existing methods for detection of human papillomavirus-related oropharyngeal cancers are not particularly effective, and she sees promise in the future availability of the liquid biopsy that could be used to identify HPV-related cancers of the mouth and throat.
The research comes with some cautions, however, as she notes. Oral cancers typically develop slowly and, even though HPV is present, there may be no reason to believe that it will develop into cancer. But, she says, the research team is looking at “signature mutations” that may pave the way for early detection. And, according to the reports, the research is extremely promising at this point.
The Importance of Routine Care
Until the saliva test is perfected, however, the best way to detect oral health problems is through regular dental checkups and routine oral health care. Your dentist routinely checks the condition of your teeth and gums and is trained to look for any changes that may be suspicious. If you maintain a sensible dental health regimen, report any problems to your dental professional, and have regular screenings by a medical doctor, you should have few serious concerns about your health.
As with all aspects of physical well-being, proper weight, diet and exercise habits go a long way toward maintaining lasting health. Medical doctors and dental professionals are increasingly aware that oral health indicators can be used to monitor other conditions, and that specific medical problems have an adverse effect on teeth and gums. Even certain medications can affect the condition of your teeth and gums. It is always wise to discuss your health concerns with both your physician and your dentist and, if necessary, to coordinate treatment of specific conditions with both.
If you have questions or concerns, knowing the facts can alleviate your concerns.
A Confident Future
One of the best ways to face the future with confidence and a bright smile is to visit your dentist on a regular basis. Most oral health problems are easily preventable if you follow recommendations to brush and floss regularly, see your dentist twice a year for regular cleaning and routine checkups, and eat sensibly. Children who learn early to take care of their teeth grow into adults with bright, happy smiles.
And, in the event that you have dental problems along the way, we at Briglia Dental Group stand ready to help solve those problems. We are not only well-equipped to handle your routine care, but we specialize in cosmetic and restorative procedures, and we are committed to helping you retain or restore that brilliant smile. You can be sure that we also keep abreast of the latest breakthroughs in medical and dental screening. When that rapid saliva test becomes available, Briglia Dental Group will certainly be able to offer you the option of quick and easy screening.
Until then, why not contact us to schedule your regular checkup? We look forward to helping you maximize your oral health!