Simple test can detect oral cancer in minutes

HOUSTON - Nearly 50,000 people will be diagnosed with oral cancer in the United States this year, and those numbers are expected to rise. Now, a simple, non-invasive test may soon be available to detect this deadly cancer early, with the hope of saving more lives.

Jeffrey Stanger was enjoying the good life when a trip to the dentist led to a frightening diagnosis.

“I enjoy working out, traveling and working,” Stanger said. “In 2016, my dentist noticed some lesions on my tongue.”

A biopsy revealed Jeffrey had oral cancer.

“When we refer to oral cancer, I’m talking about tumors involved in the mouth or the throat,” otolaryngologist, Dr. Elizabeth Franzmann explained.

Franzmann said cases of oral cancers are on the rise in this country due to the human papilloma virus or HPV. She says this type of cancer can be difficult to detect early on.

“So we are in better need of screening tools for this disease that are simple and inexpensive,” Franzmann added.

Franzmann and her team discovered that a molecule called CD44 plays an important role.

“We published a paper that showed that sure enough the levels in cancer patients were elevated compared to controls,” Franzmann said.

From there they developed a simple oral rinse test called OncAlert that can be used right in the dentist’s office.

Franzmann, showing the product, explained, “This protein pad here will turn a certain color of green.”

The green color means shows a person is at high risk. Jeffrey says this simple test can be a life saver.

“So you can detect it in very earlier stages,” he explained.

Jeffrey had surgery to remove the cancer, and is back smiling and enjoying life.

In spring of 2017 Vigilant Biosciences opened their FDA trial for the U.S. version of the OncAlert rapid test. A similar test that’s sent to the lab is already available here in the U.S. Both tests are made by Vigilant Biosciences, which recently received a federal grant from the National Institutes of Health for Oral Cancer Research.

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