Health Beat

Health Beat: Oral cancer detector

LOS ANGELES - Jeffrey Stanger was enjoying the good life when a trip to the dentist led to a frightening diagnosis.

"In 2016, my dentist noticed some lesions on my tongue," Stranger recalled.

A biopsy revealed he had oral cancer.

"When we refer to oral cancer, I'm talking about tumors involved in the mouth or the throat," explained Dr. Elizabeth Franzmann, an associate professor in the otolaryngology department at the University of Miami.

Franzmann said cases of oral cancers are on the rise in the United States due to the human papilloma virus, or HPV. Franzmann said the problem is this type of cancer can be difficult to detect early on.

"So we are in better need of screening tools for this disease that are simple and inexpensive," Franzmann continued.

Franzmann and her team discovered that a molecule called CD44 plays an important role.

"We published a paper that showed that sure enough the levels in cancer patients were elevated compared to controls," Franzmann said.

From there, they developed a simple oral rinse test called OncAlert, which can be used right in the dentist's office.

"This protein pad here will turn a certain color of green," said Franzmann, showing the product.

That shows a person is at high risk. Stranger said the simple test can be a life-saver.

"So you can detect it in very earlier stages," he stated.

Stranger had surgery to remove the cancer and is back smiling and enjoying life.

In spring of 2017, Vigilant Biosciences opened its FDA trial for the U.S. version of the OncAlert rapid test. A similar test that's sent to the lab is already available in the U.S. Both tests are made by Vigilant Biosciences, which recently received a federal grant from the National Institutes of Health for Oral Cancer Research.

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