A diagnosis of cancer can be devastating. For the patient, their family and loved ones, it feels like the world is coming to an end. I saw it first hand when my son was diagnosed with leukemia at the age of three years. By the Grace of God and the skill of a fine oncologist and his staff who treated my son, he is now cancer-free. But I also give a lot of credit to his pediatrician who when she saw him for what we thought was a “bug”, she asked the right questions, did the right tests and put it all together to know that this was much more than a “bug”.
You see, when it comes to beating cancer, early detection is key. Indeed, it can mean the difference between a life that is long and fruitful and one that is dreadfully cut short.
Pancreatic cancer is among the most elusive of cancers. Early diagnosis can be a matter of luck. Only 3 percent of cases are found in the first, most curable stage. The pancreas is a digestive organ located near the stomach and the small intestine. Its main function is to help with the digestion of food and produce hormones in the body serving several different functions.
Pancreatic cancer is a very aggressive cancer that has become a serious health issue in the United States. The American Cancer society reports that more than 38,000 individuals are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer annually and as many as 35,000 individuals die from the illness each year.
One of the main reasons why pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the nation is because it is difficult to detect early. Pancreatic cancer symptoms are generally silent and painless in the initial stages. As the cancer continues to grow, symptoms of pancreatic cancer will make it possible to detect the problem.
Dr. David Wong, the Director of the Dental Research Institute at the UCLA School of Dentistry, is hoping to turn the tables on not only the elusive pancreatic cancer, but other cancers as well. He is doing this by studying what are called biomarkers in our saliva. Biomarkers are a protein or a byproduct of the cancer that can be detected not just in the tumor itself but in other areas of the body such as body fluids and that includes your spit!
Dr. Wong was able to identify biomarkers in saliva that distinguish pancreatic cancer patients and patients who do not have the cancer. Dr. Wong was also surprised to find that he and his fellow researchers were able to identify salivary biomarkers for other cancers such as breast cancer, lung cancer, ovarian cancer and more.
Further study is needed to confirm the ability of salivary biomarkers to identify the very-early-stage of pancreatic cancer. Imagine being able to provide a sample of your saliva for doctors to not only detect a vast array of cancers at a very early stage, but also being able to follow one’s treatment progress.
Having the capability to implement safe, cost-effective, widespread screening could very well be the answer to saving thousands of lives each year.
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