Saliva tests might mean earlier oral cancer detection

September 27, 2022

Saliva tests might mean earlier oral cancer detection

Saliva testing is emerging as a potential option to detect oral cavity cancer – a condition often difficult to identify early and which usually becomes a painful ordeal for patients as it progresses.

“The way it's diagnosed is typically with a biopsy, and that biopsy can be painful,” said Dr. Brittany Barber, a head and neck surgeon at UW Medicine. “Other diagnostic techniques would be very useful and a lot more comfortable for the patient.”

Even before diagnosis, the cancer’s most common warning sign is persistent pain in the mouth, Barber said, and early detection tends to make surgery more effective and lessen the likelihood that follow-up procedures are needed.

OrisDX has developed a molecular saliva test; another diagnostic, created by Viome, reportedly is 90% accurate at detecting oral and throat cancers, and won a Breakthrough Device designation from the Food and Drug Administration. Neither test, however, has been given full FDA approval.

“We think it looks very promising,” Barber said of the technology. “Patients should continue to see their practitioners and be evaluated for any symptoms that they have, but hopefully this test can be used as an adjunct to standard of care treatment in the next couple of years.”

Oral cavity cancer can involve the front of the tongue, the inside of the cheeks, the gingiva where the teeth are located, the hard palate and the floor of the mouth. It is separate from throat cancer, which forms in the tonsils, larynx and base of the tongue.

Download broadcast-ready soundbites on oral cancer symptoms, detection, testing and treatment.

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