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New Gene Test Predicts Whose Mouth Lesions Might Be Cancerous

Last Updated: October 09, 2012.

Developer says it eventually may allow earlier detection, treatment.

TUESDAY, Oct. 9 (HealthDay News) -- A gene test that can identify people at risk for mouth cancer has been developed by British researchers.

The test detects precancerous cells in patients with benign-looking mouth lesions and could lead to earlier treatment for at-risk patients and improve their chances of survival, according to the team at Queen Mary, University of London.

They used the quantitative Malignancy Index Diagnostic System test -- which measures the level of 16 genes -- on more than 350 head and neck tissue specimens from nearly 300 patients and found that it had a cancer detection rate between 91 percent and 94 percent.

The study was published Oct. 4 in the International Journal of Cancer.

Mouth cancer affects more than half a million people worldwide each year, and that number is expected to rise above 1 million by 2030, according to World Health Organization figures. Most cases of mouth cancer are caused by either smoking or chewing tobacco, or drinking alcohol.

Mouth lesions are common, but only 5 percent to 30 percent may turn into cancers. Until now, no test has been able to accurately detect which lesions will become cancerous. Many mouth cancers are diagnosed at later stages, when the chances of survival are greatly reduced.

"A sensitive test capable of quantifying a patient's cancer risk is needed to avoid the adoption of a 'wait-and-see' intervention," study lead investigator and test inventor Dr. Muy-Teck Teh said in a university news release. "Detecting cancer early, coupled with appropriate treatment, can significantly improve patient outcomes, reduce mortality and alleviate long-term public health care costs."

Although this study shows that the test is effective for early cancer detection, further clinical trials are needed to evaluate its long-term clinical benefits.

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more about mouth and other types of oral cancer.

SOURCE: Queen Mary, University of London, news release, Oct. 4, 2012


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