One day soon, doctors may identify people with oral cancer using only a sample of spit.
Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, have identified every protein found in human saliva. They found 1,116 of them.
Researchers took saliva samples from 64 people with a common type of oral cancer. The cancer is called squamous cell carcinoma. They also took samples from 64 people without cancer. They found that five saliva proteins could be used to identify people with cancer.
The test found 90% of cancer cases. It ruled out cancer in 83% of the healthy people.
Larger studies are planned. Also, the researchers are working on a test that could easily be used in doctor's offices.
About 55,000 people are diagnosed with oral cancer in the United States each year. Cancer found at the earliest stages is most curable. But more than half of cases are found after the cancer has spread.
Saliva testing is also being studied for other cancers, including head and neck cancer and breast cancer.
The UCLA study appears in the October issue of the journal Clinical Cancer Research.