- Austin, TX
Oral cancer is the sixth most common cancer in the U.S. The survival rate of oral cancer is lower than that of cervical cancer, Hodgkin’s disease, cancer of the brain, liver, testes, kidneys and skin. It is the cause of nearly 8,000 deaths a year in the U.S. That means one patient dies from oral cancer every hour.
Worldwide, oral cancer can affect 350,000 annually. Smoking and other tobacco use are associated with 70 to 80 percent of oral cancer cases. Men are affected twice as often as women, particularly men older than age 40. Other than the lips, the most common areas for oral cancer are on the tongue and floor of the mouth.
Oral cancer is particularly dangerous because it has a high risk of producing second, primary tumors. Early detection is the key. The mortality rate of this cancer is high because it’s often discovered too late in development. Cancer is diagnosed in stages I-IV. Detection of an oral cancer in stage I will carry a likely prognosis of an 80 percent survival rate. However, the same lesion, if progressed to stage III, will carry a 20 percent survival rate. Despite numerous advances in treatment, oral squamous cell carcinoma has just an approximately 50% at five-years from diagnosis survival rate, which is the worst of all cancer death rates. The five-year survival rate has not improved in the last three decades.
Currently, the most definitive procedure to detect oral cancer involves a visit to the physician’s office, a scalpel biopsy usually on the tongue or gums, followed by a histopathologist evaluation by a pathologist.
Now, saliva is being viewed as a way to screen for the cancer. Dr. David Wong, refers to saliva as “the mirror of the body, in the sense that it is the perfect medium to be explored for health and disease surveillance.”
Saliva contains specific biomarkers associated with either a healthy or diseased state. Because collecting saliva is noninvasive, it is the preferable way to detect and monitor the biomarkers. Doctors hope that in the future, a patient will be able to simply spit into a vial and avoid a more invasive biopsy.
The use of saliva for oral cancer screening is still in its infancy, but it does look very promising. To date, two salivary proteins, IL8 and thioredoxin, which can discriminate saliva of oral cancer from control subjects, have been discovered. IL8 is significantly higher in saliva of oral cancer patients and is highly discriminatory of detecting oral cancer in saliva.
Miniaturized diagnostic technologies will be able, with minute amounts of body fluids, specifically saliva, to yield critical patient information reflecting a healthy or diseased status. Lifestyle choices still remain the biggest cause of oral cancer. Some things you can do to prevent cancer: minimize or avoid smoking or other tobacco use, minimize or avoid alcohol use, practice good oral hygiene and have dental problems corrected.