Mouthwash Identifies Oral Cancer Recurrence Biomarkers

Dentistry Today

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Researchers at the University of Cincinnati (UC) are investigating whether certain molecular markers that can be collected from simple mouthwash samples can help in identifying the recurrence of throat and mouth cancers in their earliest stages. 

Scott Langevin, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Health and a member of both the Cincinnati Cancer Center (CCC) and UC Cancer Institute, has received $782,000 from the American Cancer Society to continue his research.

“In 2017, mouth and throat cancer, otherwise known as oral and pharyngeal cancer, accounted for an estimated 49,670 new cancer diagnoses and 9,700 cancer-related deaths in the US, and the outcomes for patients with this cancer is relatively poor,” said Langevin. 

“About half of these patients will have cancer recurrence within two years of treatment. Earlier detection of recurrent tumors is associated with better clinical outcomes, so there is a clear need for new tests that can help facilitate early detection,” said Langevin. 

Langevin and his colleagues previously identified a biomarker panel comprising 22 regions of DNA. Based on the amount of a certain molecule attached to these regions, a process called DNA methylation, scientists could identify the presence of mouth and throat cancer with a high level of accuracy by using a noninvasive oral rinse or mouthwash samples. 

“With this project, we hope to evaluate the potential of this oral rinse methylation panel as a clinical tool for early detection of cancer recurrence following diagnosis and treatment,” Langevin said. “This will hopefully help us develop a new test that can reduce the impact of these cancers.”

Langevin, who originally received a National Cancer Institute K22 award to begin this study, said that his team will take a deep look into methylation within the tumors themselves to enhance understanding of the prevalence and extend of these alterations in mouth and throat cancers.

“Facilitated by my clinical co-investigators, Dr. Trish Wise-Draper and Dr. Alice Tang, we will identify and recruit a cohort of patients who have been diagnosed with mouth and throat cancers and will regularly collect oral rinse samples, roughly every three months for two years, following their initial diagnosis and treatment,” said Langevin.

“Our team will catalog the methylation patterns across the 22 regions that make up our biomarker panel and document how they impact gene expression by applying DNA and RNA sequencing techniques on matched tumor and normal tissue from mouth and throat cancer patients,” Langevin said. 

Langevin and his team will assess the potential use of the oral rinse methylation panel as a tool for early detection of cancer recurrence during the first two years of post-treatment patient follow-up.

“This has clear clinical relevance and could serve as a beneficial tool for early detection and subsequent early intervention of these very serious cancers, potentially improving outcomes for patients,” Langevin said.

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