The cure rates for patients diagnosed with head and neck cancer is only 30 percent. That's because the disease is often detected in the late stages. But researchers are working on an easy test for earlier detection.
Edie Acosta recently battled neck cancer. She said her niece and nephew gave her the courage to fight cancer. The stage-four tumor was removed less than a year ago.
"It seemed bigger and bigger 'til it got to the size of a fist, a man's fist," Acosta said. "And I couldn't even move my neck. You feel like a little bird whose wings got cut and you can't fly anymore. I just, I thought I was really gonna die."
For patients like Edie, late stage diagnosis makes treating neck cancer more difficult. But researchers at the Sylvester Cancer Center at University of Miami are working on a quick, inexpensive mouthwash to detect head and neck cancers earlier.
The patient rinses with the saline mouthwash. After they spit it out, doctors add antibodies that identify molecules involved with cancer. In about 48 hours, if there's cancer detected in the saliva, the molecules show up in color.
Dr. Elizabeth Franzmann, MD is an Otolaryngologist at the Sylvester Cancer Center.
"We've found that these molecules show up differently in the oral rinses from patients that have cancer compared to patients that don't have cancer," Dr. Franzmann said.
In a study that included 102 head and neck cancer patients and 69 patients with benign disease, the oral rinse distinguished cancer from benign disease nearly 90 percent of the time.
For Edie, 30 years of smoking has taken its toll. But she hopes this new test helps others catch the cancer before it's too late.
"I think that would be a miracle."
That's exciting news for generations to come, because doctors say if head and neck cancer is caught early, they could be able to cure at least 80 percent of cases.