A team from the University of California at Los Angeles' Jonsson Cancer Center were able to differentiate head and neck cancer patients from a group of healthy subjects based on biomarkers found in their spittle.
The study provides a first proof of a principle that might result in new diagnostic and early detection tools and lead to further studies using saliva to detect other cancers.
The study used four RNA biomarkers to detect the presence of head and neck cancer with 91 percent sensitivity and accuracy, said Dr. David Wong, a researcher.
"This is a new direction, using a non-invasive fluid for disease diagnostics, particularly in cancer," Wong said. "This is our proof of principle. We now hope to demonstrate the utility of saliva for systemic diagnosis of other diseases such as breast cancer."
Typically, cancer researchers use blood serum and urine to look for cancer signatures.
The study appears in Wednesday's issue of the journal Clinical Cancer Research,