A new cancer test that uses a drop of saliva and is said to be 100% accurate is being developed by scientists.
The test, which can be carried out by a pharmacist, a health care worker, or even at home, will cost around £15.
This is a major breakthrough as the current practise of detecting cancer in the body is by taking a biopsy of a suspect tumour. The DNA is then sequenced and only then do doctors know what genetic material to look for.
The problem with this way of testing is that it cannot be used to initially detect cancer, it can only be used to diagnose the type of cancer and then to monitor it. This test can also throw up false positives.
How does the saliva cancer test work?
The way the saliva test works is by detecting tumour DNA when it is already circulating in bodily fluids. This is known as a liquid biopsy.
David Wong, a professor of oncology at California State University, spoke to the American Association for the Advancement of Science at their annual meeting in Washington about the new test:
“If there is circulating signature of a tumour in a person blood or saliva, this test will find it,” he said.
“We need less than one drop of saliva and we can turn the test around in 10 minutes. It can be done in a doctor’s office while you wait.
“Early detection is crucial. Any time you gain in finding out that someone has a life-threatening cancer, the sooner the better.
“With this capability, it can be implemented by the patient themselves in a home check, or dentist or pharmacy.”
How did scientists come up with the saliva cancer test?
Wong and his team came up with the test after they discovered fragments of the genetic messenger molecule RNA, which is linked to cancer, in saliva.
In layman’s terms, the test looks for any genetic mutations that are in blood plasma consistent with a tumour somewhere in the body.
The test will go into the trial stages with lung cancer patients in China later this year. The team are expecting approval from the Food and Drug Administration in America within two years.
If it proves to be successful in the trials, it could be available as a test in the UK by the end of the decade.
Wong told the annual meeting that he and his team hoped the test would be used to detect a variety of different cancers.
“I would love to do it in the U.K…..by the end of this decade. I would hope sooner than that,” Wong added.
“Down the road it might be possible to test for multiple cancers at the same time.
“The advantages of our technology is that it is non-invasive. If you have a credible early screening risk assessment technology that people can use on their own or at dentists’ office or pharmacists – that’s the key, early detection.”
Scientists and doctors are now said to be concentrating on early detection of cancer rather than a cure.
With over 330,000 people every year diagnosed with cancer in the UK, detecting the disease early enough is vital for saving lives. This test may be the start of overcoming cancer.