Lung Wab

By Carrie Johnson Weimar • Published: July 11th, 2008
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

You’ve probably seen it on television crime shows: A detective takes a cotton swab and runs it on the inside of a bad guy’s mouth to collect his D-N-A. Now doctors are researching whether that same approach could be used to diagnose a patient with lung cancer.

The idea? Damage to the oral cavity tends to mirror damage to lung tissue after prolonged exposure to tobacco carcinogens. In other words, if a smoker’s mouth shows signs of problems, chances are the lungs will, too.

Diagnosing lung cancer is typically a time-consuming and invasive process. It includes imaging studies, such as X-rays or M-R-Is, blood tests, tests of lung secretions and, finally, biopsy. So doctors are very encouraged by the prospect of a quicker, less invasive way to diagnose the disease.

Researchers from the University of Texas Anderson Cancer Center in Houston examined lung and mouth tissue from one-hundred-twenty-seven chronic smokers. A specific form of molecular tissue damage was present in both sets of samples. In theory, this means that tissue sampling from the mouth should be just as effective as tissue sampling from the lungs. But doctors say there’s still much more research needed before the technique could become common practice.

In the meantime, there is still plenty you can do to prevent lung cancer. The top recommendation from the American Lung Association: Don’t smoke, and avoid people who do. Exercise regularly. And get regular check-ups from your doctor.