A review of research on salivary biomarkers for oral cancer detection

Clin Transl Med. 2014 Feb 24;3(1):3. doi: 10.1186/2001-1326-3-3.


Using saliva for disease diagnostics and health surveillance is a promising approach as collecting saliva is relatively easy and non-invasive. Over the past two decades, using salivary biomarkers specifically for early cancer detection has attracted much research interest, especially for cancers occurring in the oral cavity and oropharynx, for which the five-year survival rate (62%) is still one of the lowest among all major human cancers. More than 90% of oral cancers are oral squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC) and the standard method for detection is through a comprehensive clinical examination by oral healthcare professionals. Despite the fact that the oral cavity is easily accessible, most OSCCs are not diagnosed until an advanced stage, which is believed to be the major reason for the low survival rate, and points to the urgent need for clinical diagnostic aids for early detection of OSCC. Thus, much research effort has been dedicated to investigating potential salivary biomarkers for OSCC, and more than 100 such biomarkers have been reported in the literature. However, some important issues and challenges have emerged that require solutions and further research in order to find reliable OSCC salivary biomarkers for clinical use. This review article provides an up-to-date list of potential OSCC salivary biomarkers reported as of the fall of 2013, and discusses those emerging issues. By raising the awareness of these issues on the part of both researchers and clinicians, it is hoped that reliable, specific and sensitive salivary biomarkers may be found soon-and not only biomarkers for early OSCC detection but also for detecting other types of cancers or even for monitoring non-cancerous disease activity.