A cleaning, a reminder to floss—and a cancer screening? That's what a trip to the dentist may soon entail.
Other labs have been making strides as well: Earlier this year, Charles Streckfus, DDS, a professor of diagnostic sciences at the University of Texas in Houston, published research in which he found breast cancer–related proteins in saliva; Joseph A. Califano, MD, heads up a team at Johns Hopkins studying a swish-and-spit test for head and neck cancer.
The saliva test is appealing because people visit dentists more frequently than their doctor, and the screens will be relatively inexpensive. Though the technology is still at least five years away, researchers are nonetheless enthusiastic. "The earlier you can detect disease, the more likely you are able to cure it, which is why these tests could have a major impact," says Lawrence Tabak, DDS, PhD, director of the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, a government agency that funds much of the current research.