Michigan scientists are studying the effectiveness of a new low-cost saliva test they believe could soon be used to detect oral cancer.
The study, led by Michigan State University, aims to show the simple test would offer an improvement over current screening and result in fewer people dying of the sixth most common cancer.
Barry Wenig, a professor in the College of Human Medicine's Department of Surgery, is working with Delta Dental of Michigan's Research and Data Institute to enroll more than 100 patients with white lesions or growths in their mouths and tonsil areas as part of the clinical trial.
Wenig and his team hope to identify certain biomarkers previously identified by researchers at the University of California-Los Angeles that indicate the presence of oral cancer. By creating a simple saliva test to identify the biomarkers, physicians and dentists would know which patients need treatment and which ones could avoid needless and invasive biopsies.
"Most white lesions are benign, so a majority of people who develop them are getting biopsies that are not needed," Wenig said. "Conversely, a simple test would allow us to identify those patients with malignant lesions and get them into treatment quicker."
Only 60 percent of patients live beyond five years after an oral cancer diagnosis. Among black males, the survival rate is less than 38 percent.