Breast cancer saliva test a long way off says Cancer Research UK

In collaboration with the Press Association

A possible test for breast cancer that detects tumour-related proteins in human saliva is still a long way off becoming reality, Cancer Research UK has said.

Researchers at the University of Texas Health Science Centre at Houston reported measuring the levels of specific proteins in saliva might be a useful approach to help diagnose breast cancer.

Henry Scowcroft, Senior Information Officer at Cancer Research UK, commented: "Diagnosing cancer early saves lives. So researchers around the world are trying to find out if early signs of the disease can be found in bodily fluids like blood and saliva.

"This paper is one of many early 'proof-of-principle' results that are published every year. But the research only looked at samples from a very small number of people," he noted.

"The technique might not prove reliable when more people are studied and there's no data on how effective it might be in practice. So there's a lot more work to be done to find out if this method could ever be used routinely."

The study, published in the journal Cancer Investigation, revealed that the type and amount of proteins in salivary gland secretions changes during the onset of breast cancer.

Dr William Dubinsky, a biochemist and professor of integrative biology and pharmacology, commented: "Saliva is a complex mixture of proteins. We go through a process that compares different samples by chemically labelling them in such a way that we can not only identify the protein, but determine how much of it is in each sample.

"This allows us to compare the levels of 150 to 200 different proteins in cancerous versus non-cancerous specimens to identify possible markers for disease."

Researchers analysed saliva samples from 30 patients and identified 49 proteins whose levels were different in healthy patients to those with breast abnormalities. The results suggested that it might even be possible to tell the difference between people with benign tumours from those with malignancies.