A bit of spit can reveal whether that pain in your chest is a heart attack. Don’t believe us? How about this: In mere minutes, a patient’s saliva can be analyzed in an ambulance, a dentist’s office or the neighborhood drugstore for an early diagnosis — which is important to help prevent permanent damage from occurring to the heart. A touch of drool might also potentially be able to help screen for breast cancer before it’s even detectable on mammograms. The patient spits into a cup, and the saliva is placed onto a biochip the size of a cellphone and machine-analyzed within minutes for certain levels of proteins that are indicative of cancer, according to researchers at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.
And that’s not the only type of cancer that our saliva can reveal. Currently, a simple swish-and-spit test can spot early signs of oral or pharyngeal cancer without requiring a chunk of tissue for biopsy. The test, developed by scientists at the UCLA School of Dentistry with support from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, detects a unique combination of protein and genomic biomarkers present in the saliva of oral-cancer patients and is 93 percent clinically accurate. Looking to the future, doctors believe a spit cup could also eventually replace a variety of blood tests that currently require painful needle sticks, since specific biomarkers in saliva can indicate hormone imbalances affecting thyroid function, prediabetes, diabetes or HIV.