Breast cancer may one day be detected by dentists testing patients’ saliva.

According to research published in the journal Cancer Investigation, a U.S. team has found that women with breast cancer secrete particular proteins into the saliva that can be picked up by a test.

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Researchers in Houston, Texas, analyzed samples from 30 patients and found 49 proteins that differentiated those who were healthy from those who had breast cancer tumous. The proteins could also distinguish between tumors that are benign and malignant.

Professor Charles Streckfus of the University of Texas Dental Branch, who led the research, said that he could see no reason why breast cancer should not be diagnosed during a trip to the dentist. “Most folks visit the dental office way more often than they ever see the physician,” he said.

Antonia Dean, clinical nurse specialist at Breast Cancer Care, said: “This paper from the University of Texas is interesting but, as the researchers state, further evidence is clearly needed. Only 10 study participants had breast cancer, so it is very difficult to draw any wider conclusions from the findings.”