June 26, 2015

Blood and Spit Test that Detects Cancer of the Head and Neck

Over the years, simple blood tests have been developed to detect specific types of cancer in the human body. We have PSA for prostate cancer; BRCA for breast cancer; CEA for colon cancer... and potentially in the very near future... a blood as well as spit test for head and neck cancer!


Developed by researchers at Johns Hopkins, this new blood/spit test is able to detect squamous cell carcinoma with astounding accuracy using a combination of both DNA mutations and HPV markers.  These tests were able to identify cancer 100 percent of the time and ruled out cancer 96 percent of the time. [link to study]

These results were based on a study population of only 93 patients, so before this testing becomes commercially available, more rigorous study in a much larger population of patients is needed.

This test should dramatically improve diagnosis of head and neck cancer, hopefully at an early and curable stage. But keep in mind that the gold standard of biopsy will STILL be required since although this simple blood/spit test can inform whether cancer is present or not, it won't be able to tell WHERE in the head and neck the cancer is located. For example, larynx versus base of tongue versus tonsil. Also unclear is whether this test can eventually provide some information on how severe the cancer is (staging, size).

In the end, this test will most likely help in diagnosis as well as monitoring for cancer recurrence after treatment.

Also keep in mind that this test is able to diagnose ONLY one type of cancer... squamous cell carcinoma, albeit the most common kind. However, there are many other head and neck cancers which this test will not be able to detect such as acinic cell carcinoma, adenocarcinoma, mucoepidermoid carcinoma, neuroendocrine carcinoma, etc.

Of note, our office does offer the HPV spit test to see if HPV is present in the mouth/throat.

Detection of somatic mutations and HPV in the saliva and plasma of patients with head and neck squamous cell carcinomas. Science Translational Medicine 24 Jun 2015: Vol. 7, Issue 293, pp. 293ra104 DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aaa8507
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Fauquier ENT

Dr. Christopher Chang is a private practice otolaryngology, head & neck surgeon specializing in the treatment of problems related to the ear, nose, and throat. Located in Warrenton, VA about 45 minutes west of Washington DC, he also provides inhalant allergy testing/treatment, hearing tests, and dispenses hearing aids.

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