For millions of women going to see doctors for annual mammograms to detect breast cancer may become a thing of the past. Instead of making a regular appointment with a physician, your dentist may be able to detect early warning signs through a simple saliva test. The test is designed to detect the presence of a hormone called Epidermal Growth factor (EGF), which is a protein that promotes the growth of breast cancer cells. Keeping track of EGF levels in saliva will help doctors treating patients for the disease determine which therapy will garner the most effective response as well as aid in follow-up care.
Similar tests are already being used to detect cancers of the throat and mouth with only a ten percent failure rate. So, if you go to a doctor and he asks you to spit into a cup, do not be surprised, but it seems that dentists will be the ideal avenue for the administration of such tests in the future.
Doctors hope that the test, which is undergoing testing by the FDA will increase the chances of early detection of the disease since most patients see their dentists more often than they see a regular physician. One dentist, a Dr. Carl Jenkins of Watsontown, Pennsylvania already performs blood pressure screenings for patients who come into his office and is excited about the possibility. According to Dr. Jenkins, he sees most patients on a semi-annual basis and many of them do not have a regular physician. Not only is the test less painful than the typical mammogram, Dr. Jenkins points out “And who would prefer a blood draw to spitting in a cup?” Additional benefits include the lack of needles and the lack of extensive training required for dentists to offer such a screening to their patients. Saliva is also a clear colorless liquid that does not change color, unlike blood.
The American Cancer Society says that an estimated 178,480 new cases of the invasive version of the disease will be diagnosed this year and more than 40,000 women are expected to die of the disease which is the second leading cause of death among women.
The test, which still needs to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration would not replace the need for yearly mammograms, it would just give women an additional line of defense against the illness. An article detailing the benefits and drawbacks of the practice appeared in the March/April issue of the peer-reviewed publication General Dentistry.