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Blood Tests Capable of Detecting Oral Cancers Caused by Sex

Update Date: Jun 18, 2013 09:55 AM EDT

Ever since Hollywood star Michael Douglas mentioned that his throat cancer was caused by too much oral sex, the subject of whether or not sexually transmitted diseases can cause oral cancer has been questioned. Although the medical experts state that it is possible to get oral cancer from a sexually transmitted disease, there are not many ways of testing whether or not it was oral sex or other factors that contributed to the illness. Now, a new study has found that blood tests could potentially detect sexually transmitted oral cancer.

According to a group of scientists headed by the World Health Organization (WHO), blood tests could detect antibodies that develop in response to a high-risk kind of virus associated with mouth and throat cancers. The presence of these antibodies could help doctors screen patients who might develop these types of cancers. More specifically, the researchers hope that blood tests could one-day screen people for the human papillomavirus (HPV) antibodies that increase the risk of oral cancers.

"Up to now, it was not known whether these antibodies were present in blood before the cancer became clinically detectable," said the WHO's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), Paul Brennan, according to FOX News. "If these results are confirmed, future screening tools could be developed for early detection of the disease."

The research team, which was also composed of scientists from the German Cancer Research Center and the U.S. National Cancer Institute, evaluated data from a larger study called EPIC (European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition). EPIC enlisted over 500,000 people from 10 European countries starting in 1990 and is still going on. The research team calculated that from this large sample set, 135 people developed oral cancers. Of that number, 47 of them, which is around one-third, had HPV16 E6 antibodies 12 years before the oral cancer was detectable.

Despite this find, which could change the way oral cancers are detected, the researchers stressed that more work needs to be done because this type of antibody test results in false positives. One in every 100 test found HPV16 antibodies that did not turn into cancer.

This study was published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

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