20 Dec

Scientists develop spit test to diagnose oral cancer caused by HPV

Scientists have developed a simple spit test, which could help to diagnose cases of mouth and throat cancer caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV). 

A new study suggests that the test could save thousands of lives every year. Oral cancer is a form of cancer that has become more prevalent in the UK in the last decade, with the disease claiming more than 2,700 lives in 2018. Although cancer treatments have become more advanced and survival rates for many different types of cancer have improved, this is not true for mouth cancer. This is largely because people are unaware of the symptoms, and therefore, diagnoses are made at a late stage.

The new saliva test could boost survival rates by facilitating early diagnosis, which can increase the chances of survival from 50% to 90%. Scientists based at Duke University, Northern Carolina, found that the test had an 80% accuracy score. 

Although the feedback has been very positive, further analysis and trials will need to be undertaken before the test is ready for use in hospitals and clinics. 

The test provides results in just 10 minutes, it’s cheap and it can increase the chances of early diagnosis. Professor Tony Jun Huang, co-author of the study, said that the saliva test could play an important role in ensuring more people who have symptoms of oropharyngeal cancer are diagnosed and treated at an early stage. There has been a significant increase in the number of cases of these types of cancer in the Western World, but public awareness remains very poor. 

The new test uses a unique chip to isolate micro-particles, known as exosomes, within the saliva. These particles are found in bodily fluids, and several types of cancer can cause their numbers to swell. The test also checks for HPV-16, a strain of the virus that is known to increase the risk of some forms of cancer, including oropharyngeal cancer. 

Scientists at Duke University worked in collaboration with researchers at University of Birmingham and the University of California to develop the test. 

The findings of the study have been published in the Journal of Molecular Diagnostics.