Saliva and Cancer

Medical researchers are finding more and more uses for human saliva. The latest may be the ability to diagnose breast cancer. Houston Public Radio's Capella Tucker reports this will not be a replacement for mammograms.

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Breast cancer produces changes in the body beyond where the cancer cells reside.ξ And those changes can be found in saliva.ξ Diagnostic Sciences Professor Charles Streckfus at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston is researching ways to detect those changes.

"There have been many attempts in the past to do this research and because of this limitation of not being able to detect it or just being able to run just one protein at a time made this not very feasible."

Breast cancer changes the normal types and amount of proteins in saliva. Streckfus is looking at different ways of testing that would be simple, such as something called lab-on-a-chip.

"We're working on putting some of these proteins on that and that research is progressing extremely well.ξ There's all kinds of pregnancy test type platformsξwhich give you a yes/no answer, it's very easy to do that."

If a simple tool can be developed, it could be made available in dentists' offices which Streckfus says women tend to see more than their own physicians.ξ It's estimated another year of research is needed before the private sector gets involved for further development.

"Saliva is a very fascinating fluid."

Dental Branch Dean Catherine Flaitz says it's a barometer for what is happening in the body.

"We hope that it'll be important for us to diagnose other serious diseases such as autoimmune diseasesξthere's a potential for diagnosing, already HIV in saliva and we expect in the future for people to be able to use saliva also to measure different types of drugs and medications, whether they are stabilized."

Education efforts are underway for dentists to recognize the value of saliva.ξ Alsoξ says they'll need to understand their role for possible screening of diseases beyond oral problems.ξ Capella Tucker, Houston Public Radio News.

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