Can Your Saliva Tell Whether You Have Cancer?

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Seriously? Cancer in saliva? Yes, bio technology has given us another breakthrough by identifying presence of any carcinogenic compounds in the saliva of a person. Gone are the days of painful cancer biopsy tests. This new saliva test can determine the presence of any carcinogens sticking with the persons’ DNA, meddling with the genes related to disease and health. This ‘cheap’ saliva test also reveals any possibility of developing breast or prostate cancer. In the upcoming years, this test is very much likely to become a normal routine based test.

This new saliva test can determine the presence of any carcinogens sticking with the persons’ DNA, meddling with the genes related to disease and health.

The saliva of the human mouth is important in terms of containing various chemicals. Saliva test can measure the presence of any damaged or broken DNA in human body. Even the damaged DNA is important to the scientists. This broken DNA is a biomarker that could help doctors and scientists analyze diseases, screen the results of an effective treatment and warn the high-risk patients and advise them of the things they can do to prevent picking up a disease. Research team at Taiwan (NCCU) carried out a research by collecting various samples of blood and urine and found traces of damaged DNA in it. In the next round, they tested saliva and found out that it was more convenient to detect broken DNA in saliva than in urine or blood. It is because saliva naturally contains worn off cells from the lining of the mouth. These white blood cells contain DNA which makes saliva an easy option to detect for any carcinogens using a very sensitive technique of mass spectrometer.

The most important question is how cancer occurs and how people catch it even though they have no risk of it. There is not one answer to this problem as it is impossible to prove what actually causes cancer in a human being. The chances of environmental factors causing cancer are 90-95% and through genetics or inheritance, it is only 5-10%. Tobacco, obesity, diet, radiations, smoking etc. are the most common causes of cancer and people come across these normally in their daily lives. Cigarette alone contains 20 different types of cancer causing substances but addicts seem to enjoy it more and more, unaware of the danger that lies ahead. Cancer occurs mainly because these carcinogenic substances attach themselves chemically to the DNA and genes, which results in DNA malfunction. Normally, minor problems are dealt easily by our own immune system and defected genes are treated automatically; but if our repair system fails, the carcinogenic substances cause mutation or genetic alterations in the cells which leads to uncontrolled cell division, i.e., cancer. Sometimes, the carcinogens do not cause any disease readily but accumulate in the body and are triggered on with time.

After extensive research, it was discovered that this test can detect one in hundred men of having fifty percent chances of prostate cancer through the study of their risk-carrying genes and it can detect one in hundred females having thirty percent chances of breast or ovarian cancer. Recently, the scientists at Michigan State researched on the world’s sixth most common cancer —oral cancer—and devised a cost-effective saliva test on hundred to two hundred patients with growth or lesions in their mouths. The test looked for biomarkers in the saliva that confirmed the presence of oral cancer. The result of the research was simple: there is no need of expensive and hostile biopsy tests when dentists and physicians can simply identify the presence of biomarkers in the saliva of the patients.

The chances of environmental factors causing cancer are 90-95% and through genetics or inheritance, it is only 5-10%.

The saliva test is also called ‘rinse and spit test’ and it means a great deal to the dentists and scientists. University of Miami developed this test and made it available to the people at low cost for the detection of oral cancer at early stages. This cancer detection kit contains a test strip and a distinct oral rinse. The strip and the rinse work simultaneously, where strip is coated with the proteins which are the markers for the oral cancer and they are caught up by the rinse. The easiness to use and handle makes ‘rinse and spit test’ important and necessary for the patients and the medical professionals as patients do not have to go through painful cancer detection tests and wait for the results in agony. The results of saliva tests are available only after a few minutes. Rinse and spit test also distinguishes squamous cell carcinoma, a common head and neck cancer. In short, as the world is progressing, new and easy methods are being developed and made available for common use to detect various forms of diseases. The saliva test is not only pain-free but cheap as well and not everyone has to go through further cancer tests or treatments, but only those having high risk of cancer. Cancer is identified in its early stages and the patient is able to get proper medical advice to cure off the disease. Even though, this test is still in its early stages of use and is available only in the developed countries, the time is not far when it will become a routine based test for all people around the world due to its ‘cheapness’ and effectiveness.

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Aneeqa Tahir completed her B.Sc honors in Biotechnology from Government College University (GCU), Lahore. Currently, she is doing her M.Phil research from the same institute and is working on the production of Bio-ethanol from a novel strain.
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