Liquid biopsy cancer test closer; dental offices ideal for screening

Dr. David Wong at the School of Dentistry at the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA) has announced technology over a decade in the making is finally coming closer to implementation in everyday practices. Dr. Wong and his associates have been developing a method called “liquid biopsy,” which detects circulating tumor DNA in bodily fluids such as saliva and blood.

At the Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Washington, DC, Dr. Wong hosted a news briefing that outlined the prototype for liquid biopsy, which offers rapid, less invasive identification of cancers and easier tracking of disease progress during treatment.

His device uses electric field-induced release and measurement (EFIRM) to detect non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) biomarkers in saliva. The EFIRM device analyzes the contents of exosomes – tiny bags of molecules that cells release now and again. The device forces the exosomes to release their contents and carries out bio-recognition of the released biomolecules at the same time. Dr. Wong discovered many years ago that EFIRM can detext tumor-shed exosomes that are usually found in blood also in saliva.

Their approach is on trial in China in 2016 in a collaboration between UCLA and West China Hospital of Sichuan University. The best part of the liquid biopsy is that it takes only 10 minutes to read results and can be administered in any doctor’s office.

Once this liquid biopsy for the detection of small-cell lung cancer is refined, Dr. Wong and his team have planned to develop a saliva test for detecting mutations linked to oropharyngeal cancers – cancers of the mouth and the back of the throat.

Speeding up the diagnosis of cancer and making it easier to identify has a host of potential benefits. First, it alleviates the stress and strain on a patient waiting for biopsy results. The stress of wondering “is it cancer?” has no positive health impact and only aggravates the psychological stress of the potential condition.

In addition, the wait time during diagnosis can often lead to a delay in treatment. Some cancers are so aggressive that any reduction in treatment delay could mean the difference between life and death. Also, early treatment could reduce the strength, intensity, and impact of cancer treatments so that gentler, less-invasive treatment options remain viable alternatives for patients.

Perhaps most importantly to dentists, these saliva tests can easily be adopted as part of the biannual screening for oral cancers already taking place in dental offices–including Artistic Touch Dentistry–during every exam. If the liquid biopsy can be perfected, we can use biomarkers other than sight to determine the presence of potential cancers. And once the liquid biopsy has developed into the detection of additional cancers, it is possible that one screening could detect most forms of cancer during that annual oral exam at the dentist’s office.

This standard of care would be excellent for patients, as it would provide a regular screening for such important information such as the presence of cancers. It would also encourage greater participation between dentists and other healthcare providers, as integrated health teams become the norm for treating patients with complex conditions.

The earlier patients can receive a cancer diagnosis and begin treatment, the better! And we often think of dental and oral health care as separate from medical care, but as these treatments and diagnostic measures progress in sophistication, they become reflective of the truly integrated nature of medicine and the necessity of total body health care.

If you have questions about how dental care is connected to your overall wellness and how dental visits preserve your overall health, contact the team at Artistic Touch Dentistry today. We’d love to talk with you about the many ways oral care contributes to your overall wellness!


Paddock, C. (2016, February 15). “Saliva test for identifying, tracking cancer steps closer.” Medical News Today. Retrieved from