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Saliva from gum used to detect cancer

April 3, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
Every two minutes, a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer. Every 13 minutes, a woman dies from this disease. Early detection may be the key to surviving it, and that could be as simple as going to the dentist.Staring at a 5-year-old giraffe, Resa Ott is in awe of the new life and cherishes the new life. It wasn't long ago, her own life was threatened by cancer.

"It takes the wind out of your sails, and you don't want to die," Ott said.

Ott had a double mastectomy. She's cancer-free now, but her story is not unusual. One in eight women will battle breast cancer in her lifetime, and the battle against this disease has become personal for Charles Streckfus, a professor of diagnostic services at the University of Texas.

"Cancer essentially wiped out my family. My mother and father were killed back-to-back with cancer and left my sister orphaned, so it's somewhat of a grudge match," Streckfus said.

That is why he's developed a test to catch breast cancer that can be given at the dentist's office, and his idea is as simple as chewing gum.

"It's very, very simple. It's extremely inexpensive. So, you just chew it on a regular basis and then just spit it into a cup and after five minutes, we take the cup and determine what constituents are in it," Streckfus said.

Saliva from the gum is applied to a gold-plated chip, and a laser will give immediate results. Researchers at the University of Texas identified 49 specific protein markers that provide non-invasive diagnosis of benign and malignant breast tumors.

"When an individual has cancer, a lot of the proteins are altered in saliva, so it could be a good bellwether instrument for a presence of disease," Streckfus said.

Streckfus warned that the saliva test is an early detection device, not a replacement for mammograms, ultrasounds or biopsies, but any woman who has had breast cancer knows the earlier the detection, the better.

"I don't have mammograms anymore, so for me to be proactive and chew a piece of gum and have someone say, 'You know, Resa, you're clear.' Oh, talk about peace of mind," Ott said.

The diagnostic device is now being developed to be installed in dentist's offices. The saliva test could also be used to detect ovarian, endometrial, cervical, head and neck cancer.

 

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