Spit test helps diagnose some tongue and tonsil cancers

March 1, 2017

Researchers have discovered that a saliva test could speed up diagnosis for some patients with oropharyngeal cancer. These cancers happen in the tonsils and base of the tongue, and about 80 percent are caused by the Human papilloma virus (HPV). This virus is commonly known for its association with cervical cancer. Most of the time, the virus is cleared by the immune system. If not, it can be incorporated into the host DNA and increase the risk of cancer. Oropharyngeal cancers caused by HPV respond well to treatment, but if the signs and symptoms are unusual, they can take doctors a long time to diagnose. A new study published in the Journal of Otolaryngology - Head & Neck Surgery and led by Dr. Stephanie Johnson-Obaseki found that a saliva test for HPV DNA could predict with 100 percent specificity whether an oropharyngeal tumour was caused by the virus. If confirmed by further research, this test could help patients with hard-to-diagnose cases get treatment faster. The saliva tests were developed in part by Dr. H. Chaim Birnboim, a former scientist at The Ottawa Hospital and the University of Ottawa and co-founder of Ottawa-based DNA Genotek Inc.

Authors: Jason K. Wasserman, Ryan Rourke, Bibianna Purgina, Lisa Caulley, Jim Dimitroulakis, Martin Corsten, Stephanie Johnson-Obaseki.

Funders: This study received no dedicated funding, but researchers at The Ottawa Hospital are supported by The Ottawa Hospital Foundation.

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