- What your spit can tell you about breast cancer
- Dear Friend,
- Scientists have discovered a new way of testing for breast
cancer that could make the mammogram a thing of the past-and it's about
time. The test could potentially be far more accurate than the old-school
mammograms-not to mention much safer. If this catches hold in the medical
community, women can say goodbye to those breast- smashing vise grips.
Now, all they'll have to do is open wide and say, "Ahh."
- U.S. scientists are developing a breast cancer screening
test that checks a woman's saliva for evidence of the disease. They say
they've identified 49 proteins in saliva that can actually distinguish
healthy women from those with benign breast tumors and those with malignant
- According to Charles Streckfus, a professor at the University
of Texas Dental Branch at Houston, "Breast cancer triggers a change
in the type and amount of proteins in the secretions from the salivary
glands." And sure enough, when the researchers tested a group of 30
women 10 healthy, 10 with benign tumors, and 10 with malignant tumors
the protein patterns were found to be different in all three groups.
- If this is true, it could finally put an end to what
I've considered the most dangerous method of breast cancer screening: the
mammogram. Yes, in spite of the many multimedia pushes encouraging women
to get mammograms as early as possible, it's long been my belief that these
tests have been doing more harm than good.
- The reason? What I call "compression syndrome."
- Keep reading
- Very simply, severe compression of the breast (such as
the kind that occurs during a mammogram) can lead to microscopic tissue
ruptures even in the tissue of the tumor. This tear can actually
create a "leak" in the tumor, which allows the malignancy to
spread and cause an acceleration of the cancer-and an earlier death.
- Every doctor knows that breast lumps should be handled
with a great degree of care, because handling them roughly could cause
such a rupture. It's something that's drilled into your head in med school
(or at least it was back in my day).
- And any woman who has experienced a mammogram knows that
it squashes the breast pancake-flat until it hurts-hardly what I'd call
"handling with care."
- Of course, the researchers say that more tests need to
be done before a saliva screening test based on these findings can become
common and widely available. My old friends at the FDA have to weigh in
on the subject, and we all know how quickly they move. Streckfus said they
would seek the government's approval for the saliva test in the next five
- So let's say, worst case, it takes the full five years
for the approval to be sought. How long do you think it'll take the FDA
to get around to actually approving this potentially life-saving test?
Three years? Six? Ten? Depends how much money the researchers have to put
into political coffers, I suppose.
- It's maddening that we live in an age when science can
move at a breakneck pace, but our tired, dusty government system is still
locked in the days of the horse-and-buggy.
- Wouldn't this simple and surely affordable
spit test solve so many problems? What woman wouldn't sign up to take this
screening even in her early 30s, just to be sure- especially when it's
known that early detection is the key to survival in the war against cancer.
- Help me get the word around about this saliva screening.
Maybe we can help enough political juice to get the test approved sooner
rather than later.
- So mad about mammograms and the FDA that I could spit,
- William Campbell Douglass II, M.D.