Scientists report they've found DNA from head and neck cancer tumors in patients' blood and saliva samples, a development that potentially could lead to early diagnosis of these malignancies.
Although not yet ready for real-world use, such tests could also help in planning and monitoring treatment, the Johns Hopkins University researchers said.
"Tumor DNA has potential to be used as a marker for screening, early detection, monitoring during treatment and surveillance after cancer treatment," said lead researcher Dr. Nishant Agrawal, an associate professor of otolaryngology head and neck surgery.
"In the near future, there will be a noninvasive test that can be used to monitor cancer," Agrawal said.
This preliminary study involved fewer than 100 patients. "More study is necessary to validate the findings in larger groups of patients and healthy people, improve the test performance and define the precise indications for the test," he added.
Agrawal said the test is very accurate, identifying DNA shed by cancer tumors 100 percent of the time and ruling out cancer 96 percent of the time.
The goal is to use the test to monitor cancer patients for persistence and/or recurrence of their disease, Agrawal said. "Another goal is to use the test for screening to find head and neck cancers in the general population or high-risk populations," he added.
Currently, the test is for research purposes only, Agrawal said. "Once the test is validated and approved for clinical use, a positive test would lead to additional diagnostic tests and treatment," he said.