Saliva and blood tests may help detect head and neck cancers early

Blood, Saliva Tests May Help ID Head and Neck Cancers Early
Blood, Saliva Tests May Help ID Head and Neck Cancers Early

(HealthDay News) -- Scientists report they've detected DNA from head and neck cancer tumors in patients' blood and saliva samples, a development that potentially could lead to early diagnosis of these malignancies. The finding was published in the June 24 issue of Science Translational Medicine.

For the study, Nishant Agrawal, M.D., from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, and colleagues obtained saliva samples from 93 patients newly diagnosed with head and neck cancer or with recurrent cancer. Forty-seven also gave blood samples.

The researchers detected tumor DNA in the saliva of 71 patients (76 percent) and in the blood of 41 patients (87 percent). In 45 of the 47 patients who gave both blood and saliva, investigators were able to identify tumor DNA in at least one of the fluids. Specifically, Agrawal and colleagues searched blood and saliva for traces of human papillomavirus (HPV), which accounts for a growing number of these cancers. For cancers not related to HPV, they looked for mutations in specific cancer-related genes. The saliva tests were better at identifying cancers in the mouth, while blood tests detected more cancers in the throat. Combining the two could help identify cancers anywhere in this region, Agrawal told HealthDay.

If the test were to become routinely used, Agrawal expects it would cost several hundred dollars, although he'd like to see it priced at less than $50 and given by doctors and dentists. "More study is necessary to validate the findings in larger groups of patients and healthy people, improve the test performance, and define the precise indications for the test," he added.

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