Saliva identifies head and neck cancers

January 27, 2005

The RNA in saliva contains biomarkers that can accurately differentiate between patients with head and neck cancers and healthy controls.

The RNA in saliva contains biomarkers that can accurately differentiate between patients with head and neck cancers and healthy controls.

Saliva contains the same biomarkers for disease found in blood but present at much lower levels of magnitude. Nanotechnology has allowed scientists for the first time to manipulate materials on an atomic or molecular scale, thus uncovering the components of saliva.

Dr. Li Yang and colleagues at the University of California, Los Angeles evaluated 32 patients with primary T1/T2 oral squamous cell carcinoma. Location of cancers included the mouth, tongue, larynx, and pharynx. Thirty-two control subjects without cancer but with the same smoking history were also enrolled.

Microarray analysis of saliva showed more than 1600 genes that exhibited significantly different expression levels in saliva between cancer patients and controls. Seven cancer-related RNA biomarkers were consistently elevated in the cancer patients.

The combinations of these biomarkers yielded 91% sensitivity and specificity in distinguishing cancer patients from the controls. The study appeared in the Dec. 15, 2004, issue of Clinical Cancer Research.

"This is a new direction, using a noninvasive fluid for disease diagnostics, particularly in cancer," said coauthor Dr. David Wong, director of the UCLA Dental Research Institute. "This is our proof of principle. We now hope to demonstrate the utility of saliva for systemic diagnosis of other diseases such as breast cancer."

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