Nabbing Oral Cancer Before It Develops

Oral cancer predisposition detected with gene test

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Diagnosing cancer that occurs in the mouth – oral cancer – generally happens later rather than earlier. A biopsy is usually performed on already established tumors. Testing mouth lesions before cancer starts shouting would be ideal.

British researchers have developed an oral cancer test for mouth lesions that can pick up cells which are on the verge of becoming cancerous.

Such a test could save lives by treating – and curing – people with these pre-cancerous spots at the earliest stages.

"Get a persistent sore or lesion in the mouth checked out."

Researchers from Queen Mary, University of London developed the test which looks at the genetic make-up of mouth lesion cells.

Lead investigator and inventor of the test Dr. Muy-Teck Teh, from the Institute of Dentistry at Queen Mary, University of London,said: “A sensitive test capable of quantifying a patient’s cancer risk is needed to avoid the adoption of a ‘wait-and-see’ intervention. Detecting cancer early, coupled with appropriate treatment can significantly improve patient outcomes, reduce mortality and alleviate long-term public healthcare costs,” said Dr. Teh in a press release.

The technology called the quantitative Malignancy Index Diagnostic System (qMIDS) test measures the levels of 16 genes. After analysis, the test then determines the “malignancy index,” which estimates the likelihood of cancer developing.

In a recent study, the test accurately detected 92.5 percent of the oral cancers diagnosed in 299 patients from the UK and Norway.

Oral cancers will be diagnosed in an estimated 40,250 Americans this year. Around the globe, a half a million people will learn they have it this year.

Most oral cancers are linked to smoking or chewing tobacco and drinking alcohol.

Up to 30 percent of mouth lesions could become cancer. If detected early, these pre-cancers can be cured. The problem has been that no test can tell which lesions will become malignant.

Right now, biopsies are used to take and test tissue samples for cancer. These are usually more advanced and difficult-to-treat and beat cancers.

The researchers say the test needs only a piece of tissue the size of a grain of rice. The results are back in three hours, as compared to a week for biopsy results.

Consultant oral and maxillofacial surgeon, Professor Iain Hutchison, founder of Saving Faces and co-author on the study, said: “We are excited about this new test as it will allow us to release patients with harmless lesions from regular follow-up and unnecessary anxiety, whilst identifying high-risk patients at an early stage and giving them appropriate treatment. Mouth cancer, if detected early when the disease is most receptive to surgical treatment, has a very high cure rate,” Dr. Hutchinson said.

Another study author, Dr. Catherine Harwood, a consultant dermatologist, said, “Our preliminary studies have shown promising results indicating that the test can potentially also be used for identifying patients with suspicious skin or vulva lesions, offering the opportunity of earlier and less invasive treatments.”

The effectiveness and benefits of this test still need to be studied in clinical trials. So it may be years before it’s available.

Findings from this study were published October 4 in the International Journal of Cancer.

This study was supported by the Facial Surgery Research Foundation - Saving Faces (UK), the Bergen Medical Research Foundation, Norwegian Cancer Research Association and British Skin Foundation and Cancer Research UK.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
October 10, 2012
Last Updated:
January 2, 2014