New gene-based test can detect early mouth cancer

Updated: Oct 06, 2012, 12:45 PM IST

London: Scientists have developed a new gene test that can detect pre-cancerous cells in patients with benign-looking mouth lesions with 90 per cent accuracy.

Researchers from the Queen Mary, University of London, have developed the quantitative Malignancy Index Diagnostic System (qMIDS) test based on a cancer gene `FOXM1` with a detection rate of 91-94 per cent.

The test was successfully used on more than 350 head and neck tissue specimens from 299 patients in the UK and Norway.

Mouth lesions are very common and only five to 30 per cent may turn into cancers. If detected in the early stages treatment can be curative, but until now no test has been able to accurately detect which lesions will become cancerous.

"A sensitive test capable of quantifying a patient`s cancer risk is needed to avoid the adoption of a `wait-and-see` intervention. Detecting cancer early, coupled with appropriate treatment can significantly improve patient outcomes, reduce mortality and alleviate long-term public healthcare costs," lead investigator and inventor of the test Dr Muy-Teck Teh said.

The qMIDS test measures the levels of 16 genes which are converted, via a diagnostic algorithm, into a "malignancy index" which quantifies the risk of the lesion becoming cancerous.

It is less invasive than the standard histopathology methods as it requires only a 1-2 mm piece of tissue (less than half a grain of rice), and it takes less than three hours to get the results, compared to up to a week for standard histopathology

"Our preliminary studies have shown promising results indicating that the test can potentially also be used for identifying patients with suspicious skin or vulva lesions, offering the opportunity of earlier and less invasive treatments," said Dr Catherine Harwood, a consultant dermatologist and co-author on the study.

The study was published in the International Journal of Cancer.