Can a Gargle Test Help Detect Cancer?

By Patty Kim - January 22, 2024

Moffitt Cancer Center researchers are hoping to detect cancers in the throat earlier and more accurately using a simple oral gargle test. They have developed a biomarker panel to identify these cancers at early stages and are working to validate the results with a larger study.

Oropharyngeal cancers affect the middle section of your throat that makes saliva, keeps your mouth and throat moist, and helps to digest food. Nearly 58,500 new cases of oral cavity or oropharyngeal cancer will be diagnosed and more than 12,000 people will die of the disease in 2024, according to the American Cancer Society, and men are much more at risk of developing this cancer.

It’s difficult to visually spot early oropharyngeal cancers because of the folded appearance of some tissues in the throat region, which makes it critical to find a better screening test. In the U.S., 80% of oropharyngeal cancers are attributed to HPV infection. When diagnosed at early stages, HPV-related oropharyngeal cancer is highly treatable. Unfortunately, these  cancers are often diagnosed at a later stage when the disease has spread.

Advanced disease can require intense chemo-radiation following surgery that can lead to serious lifelong disabilities and death.

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"This is a great opportunity to spare people the pain and rigors of treatment and improve outcomes."

- Antonio Amelio, Ph.D., Vice Chair for Research, Head & Neck Oncology

That’s why researchers have carefully built a noninvasive diagnostic panel with 14 biomarkers for the early detection of HPV-related oropharyngeal cancer. This oral gargle biomarker panel has shown promise in initial studies.

“This is a great opportunity to spare people the pain and rigors of treatment and improve outcomes,” said Antonio Amelio, Ph.D., vice chair for research in Head & Neck Oncology at Moffitt.

Amelio and Anna Giuliano, Ph.D., founding director of Moffitt’s Center for Immunization and Infection Research in Cancer, are co-principal investigators of a study working to refine and validate the biomarker panel. The panel is being evaluated in 100 early and 100 late stage pre-treatment oropharyngeal cancers, as well as 200 matched controls from biorepositories at Moffitt and UPMC Hillman Cancer Center in Pittsburgh.

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"This is an opportunity to bring together scientists to help better detect these diseases earlier and improve outcomes."

- Anna Giuliano, Ph.D., Founding Director, Center for Immunization and Infection Research in Cancer

The next step is to open a clinical trial with a larger long-term cohort. Giuliano and Amelio are laying the groundwork to build broader collaborations to further this research.

“These are rare cancers that are increasing in incidence. This is an opportunity to bring together scientists to help better detect these diseases earlier and improve outcomes,” Giuliano said.

Moffitt is working to enroll healthy cancer-free controls to validate the biomarker panel.

HPV VACCINATION
In the U.S., more than 34,000 HPV-related cancers are diagnosed annually. HPV vaccines protect against the most common types that cause cancer and other diseases.

Who should get the HPV vaccine?

  • Children starting at age 9 through 26
  • Two doses given six to 12 months apart if the first dose is given before 15th birthday
  • Three doses recommended for young adults 15 to 26
  • Adults ages 27 to 45 should talk to their doctor about vaccination

Contact the Author

Patty Kim Public Relations Director 813-456-3342 More Articles

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