TUESDAY, Aug. 25 (HealthDay News) -- In a major step towards early diagnosis of oral cancer, researchers have found that saliva contains at least 50 microRNAs that could aid detection.
In the study, U.S. researchers measured microRNA levels in the saliva of 50 people with oral squamous cell carcinoma and 50 healthy people. They identified at least 50 microRNAs that may be associated with oral cancer.
The levels of two of those -- miR-125a and miR-200a -- were significantly lower in the cancer patients than in healthy people, the researchers found.
MicroRNAs are molecules that control activity and assess the behavior of multiple genes, according to background information in a news release about the study from the American Association for Cancer Research.
"The oral cavity is a mirror to systemic health, and many diseases that develop in other parts of the body have an oral manifestation," study author Dr. David T. Wong, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Dentistry, said in the news release.
The study findings, published online Aug. 25 in the journal Clinical Cancer Research, need to be confirmed by a larger and longer analysis, Wong said.
"It is a Holy Grail of cancer detection to be able to measure the presence of a cancer without a biopsy, so it is very appealing to think that we could detect a cancer-specific marker in a patient's saliva," Dr. Jennifer Grandis, a professor of otolaryngology and pharmacology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and Cancer Institute, said in the news release. She is also a senior editor of Clinical Cancer Research.
The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more about oral cancer.
SOURCE: American Association for Cancer Research, news release, Aug. 25, 2009