Scientists at Johns Hopkins believe they may have discovered a new means of diagnosing certain cancers located in the mouth and neck area. The researchers successfully detected tumor DNA in the saliva and blood of 93 patients that had previously been diagnosed with head and neck cancer.
Head and neck cancers are growing in numbers throughout the United States. These cancers are particularly hard to discover because they do not carry a line of genetic indicators that would allow doctors to diagnose based on family history. These cancers have long been associated with HPV.
“Our ultimate goal is to develop better screening tests to find head and neck cancers among the general population and improve how we monitor patients with cancer for recurrence of their disease,” sated Bert Vogelstein, M.D., a co-author of the study. He hopes that one day these tests could be given in common dental and doctor visits and cost as little as $50.
Around 50,000 people are diagnosed with neck and head cancers every year. The current method of diagnosis involves a physical biopsy that can often be difficult and costly. Many of these biopsies are performed too late, and sometimes the cancer is found after it can no longer be cured.
Liquid Biopsies Detecting Other Types of Cancer
Researchers at the University of Southern California have used similar methods to detect bladder cancer in a recent experiment published in the American Association for Cancer Research. By scanning urine for evidence of bladder tumor DNA, scientists were successfully able to diagnose individuals with bladder cancer. If this method proves effective after further research is conducted, it could eliminate the need for invasive, surgical methods that are in use to diagnose bladder cancer.
Another study published in the New England Journal of Medicine was able to utilize stool samples to screen for colorectal cancer. Scientists used highly precise measuring instruments to detect remnants of tumor DNA that indicated some form of rectal cancer was present.
In the past, these methods were used to monitor diseases as they reached the far advanced stages in order to determine the effectiveness of treatments and if the disease had slowed or gotten worse.
As more precise measurement options become available, doctors can now detect such minute evidence of cancer. Early diagnosis may become available through the use of less invasive techniques.