"Swish and Spit" Test Can Provide Early Evidence of Oral Cancer

By Lois Baker

Release Date: April 4, 2008

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Epithelial cells of the mouth collected by a simple "swish and spit" method can be used to detect potential early evidence of oral cancer, a preliminary study conducted by researchers at the University at Buffalo and Roswell Park Cancer Institute has shown.

Results of the study were presented today (April 4, 2008) at a poster session at the 2008 American Academy of Dental Research in Dallas, Texas.

More than 34,000 Americans will be diagnosed with oral or pharyngeal cancer in 2008 and only half of those will be alive in five years, according to the Oral Cancer Foundation. It is the sixth most common cancer worldwide, making early detection imperative.

The cancer marker studied is a fibrous protein molecule known as cytokeratin 8 (CK8). "This cytokeratin has emerged recently as a potential cellular marker of pre-malignant changes in oral epithelial cells and of increased risk of cancer development," said Jennifer Frustino, a predoctoral student at the UB School of Dental Medicine and first author on the study.

"These markers are especially useful because they are abundant, stable and easily stained and detected," she said. "Cytokeratin 8 expression is closely related to abnormalities of epithelial cells and shows a positive correlation with the development of head and neck squamous cell carcinoma." Epithelial cells line all internal and external body surfaces.

Saliva samples were collected from eight subjects with oral cancer or a history of abnormal oral lesions and five healthy controls. Participants brushed and rinsed with saline before providing the saliva sample containing cheek cells.

Results showed that the percentage of cells with cytokeratin 8 was significantly higher in the cancer/abnormal samples than in samples from the normal controls.

"Early detection is critically important in diagnosing and managing oral cancer," said Frustino, "and CK8 manifests as an early biomarker in malignancy. This marker may someday provide a focused target for early detection through a simple test done routinely in a dental office.

"This is the first study that detects CK8 as a biomarker through an easy collection method and simple analysis. The study is continuing and the results remain promising as more patients are enrolled."

Contributors to the study from Roswell Park were Richard Cheney, M.D., Renee Sammarco, Mary Reid, Ph.D., and Maureen Sullivan, D.D.S.

Lynn Solomon, D.D.S., from Tufts University, Boston, Mass., also contributed to the study.

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, a flagship institution in the State University of New York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. The School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, School of Dental Medicine, School of Nursing, School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences and School of Public Health and Health Professions constitute UB's Academic Health Center. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.