Substance in Saliva May Offer Insight into Oral Cancer Recurrence

Oral cancers are not the most commonly diagnosed cases in the United States, but they are among the most deadly. With an estimated 40,000 new cases each year, the disease ranks well behind lung, prostate and breast cancer. Even so, an unacceptable 7,500 people die from oral cancers annually with men being twice as likely as women to develop this disease.

When caught early, oral cancers do tend to be rather treatable. Problems with recurrence, however, can plague survivors. That’s why researchers have been delving into new ways to better determine which patients will be more likely down the road to encounter a relapse.

Enter new research published in JAMA Oncology in 2015. In a small-scale study, researchers found there could be a connection between the human papillomavirus type 16 and a recurrence of oral cancer. To arrive at their findings, a study of 124 patients with oral cancer was conducted. About 7 percent of patients (5 out of 67) who had HPV16 DNA in their oral rinse at the time of diagnosis were found to have this DNA in post-treatment rinses. Of those who did, all patients did develop a local recurrence of cancer.

While researchers say the findings could be game changing, they are hesitant to shout the results from the rooftops just yet. Further research is required to better understand the role HPV16 DNA plays in recurrence. It’s also possible the findings might indicate that initial treatments did not fully eradicate cancer in the first place.

Further research is hoped to occur to better understand HPV16 DNA’s role and whether it could serve as a prognostic tool for the likelihood of oral cancer recurrence. If that proves to be the case, the tool may also help lead to earlier detection of recurrences that could prompt more desirable outcomes down the road for oral cancer patients.

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