Boring, Filling, Scanning the Breast

19. March 2008

Early detection at the dentist's office? Breast cancer screening at the hairdresser? New biotechnological opportunities in detecting tumor markers open uncommon perspectives. Mainly saliva could play an important role in the future - enabling an early detection for everybody.

Detection of breast cancer in saliva

Obviously saliva as a diagnostic biofluid booms. Saliva tests today deliver data about the hormone balance or are used as a caries barometer.
By mistake people talk about DNA-test in connection with saliva – perhaps it sounds more innocuous? – In fact it involves a smear test of the oral mucosa. Saliva is used in research for several years to find out whether it is fit for a rapid, simple and, most important of all, for an early detection of cancer for example.
Studies for early detection of cancer in mouth, throat and head etc. – we already read quite a bit about the topic. The latest is a publication of dentists and biochemists of the University of Texas in the magazine “Cancer Investigation”. Here they introduce their study about detection of breast cancer in saliva.

Test checks saliva regarding protein markers

Professor Charles Streckfus and his team of researchers found an alteration in the proteins in the secretion of the salivary gland in the early stage of breast cancer. During the study they analyzed 30 saliva samples. They found 49 proteins differing form each other depending on whether it’s a healthy person’s saliva or the saliva of a person suffering from a benign- or a malign breast tumor. According to Streckfus this result points towards the possibility of a cancer test due to certain protein markers in saliva. He and his colleagues are sure that using oral biomarkers is also applicable for the diagnosis of other cancer types such as ovarian tumors or cervical cancer. They look at the saliva test as another tool in addition to mammography, ultrasound or biopsy.

Who does the test? Dentist or family physician?

The saliva samples were tested for the particular protein markers with McDevitt`s “lab-on-a-chip”-technology. The next target is to improve this platform for dentists or family physicians – as the dental scientist Streckfus explains – in order to make a diagnosis in their office even more easy and effective. The researchers’ favourite solution would be the diagnostic device reduced to the size of a cell phone. Today it obviously still has the size of a fridge. While the American colleagues are in the middle of preparing clinical tests, according to BBC the UK experts are already discussing where it actually makes sense to do those tests. At the dentist’s or rather at the GP’s? Professor Damien Walmsley, scientific consultant at the British Dental Association does not rule out the possibility that one day a whole series of diseases will be screened including breast cancer. But: “It’s more likely that the test will be done in specialist centers or by your GP”. Why not at the dentist’s asks the head of research dentists Streckfus and he reasons that especially women and children are going more often to the dentist than to the family physician. But this seems to be a rather American point of view.

Detecting breast cancer in hair

Almost simultaneously Australian researchers announce that they found a way to attest breast cancer in its early stage in hair. The link between hair structure and breast tumors is known for quite some time. Just now though, a special X-ray method is available allowing convincing tests. The discussion though whether the breast cancer diagnosis will be made at the hairdresser’s or not, should die quietly due to the necessary X-rays involved.

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