The findings also open the question of whether bacteria might, in some way, play a causal role.
The current discovery, reported in the July 7 Journal of Translational Medicine, suggests that elevated levels of three particular bacteria in saliva indicate the presence of oral squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC)--one of the deadliest of cancers because it often goes undetected in its early stages.
"Finding bacteria associated with OSCC encourages us to hope that we have discovered an early diagnostic marker for the disease," said Donna Mager, DDS, PhD., Assistant Member of the Staff in the Department of Periodontology and Molecular Genetics and the principal investigator. "If future studies bear this out, it may be possible to save lives by conducting large-scale screenings using saliva samples."
The Forsyth scientists posit that oral cancer may change the oral ecology, thus allowing certain bacteria to colonize more rapidly than others.
However, according to J. Max Goodson, DDS, PhD., Director of Clinical Research at Forsyth and a co-author of the study, "We cannot rule out the possibly that the bacteria themselves may be causally involved in the development of the disease." (Other bacteria, such as H. pylori, for example, have been implicated in augmenting the development of certain cancers).
The Forsyth approach, which focuses on testing saliva for particular bacteria, differs from --and could complement-- another recently reported approach in which saliva would be monitored for evidence of altered genetic activity in oral tissues.
The current paper, "The Salivary Microbiota as a Diagnostic Indicator of Oral Cancer," reports on a study, begun in 2