A new study has found that the most common form of oral cancer, is linked to three different types of mouth bacteria.
The researchers say the discovery could lead to a simple test for the tumor which is very often fatal.
They also suggest that the bacteria, possibly plays a role in initially causing the cancer, called oral squamous cell carcinoma.
Study leader Donna Mager of the Forsyth Institute in Boston, says that the discovery of the link with the bacteria and oral squamous cell carcinoma is encouraging and is hopefully a potential early diagnostic marker for the disease.
She hopes future studies will confirm this, and if this is so, it may be possible to save lives by conducting large-scale screenings using saliva samples.
According to the American Cancer Society, it is estimated that about 29,370 people will be newly diagnosed with oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancer in the United States in 2005, and 7,320 people will die from it.
Because the five-year relative survival rate for all the cancers is 59 percent, a reliable test is important because often these cancers are not detected until they have spread.
In the study Mager's team compared bacteria samples from the saliva of 229 healthy people to samples from 45 oral cancer patients.
They found that unusually high levels of three bacterial species, C. gingivalis, P. melaninogenica and S. mitis, present in the oral cancer patients.
The researchers say that the presence of the cancer could change the chemistry of the mouth, allowing the bacteria to flourish.
Max Goodson, Director of Clinical Research at Forsyth, says the possibility that the bacteria themselves may be causally involved in the development of the disease cannot be dismissed.
He says it is well-known that bacteria and viruses are known to cause cancer.
Helicobacter pylori bacteria are the main cause of stomach cancer, and the human wart virus is the only known cause of cervical cancer.
The study is published in the Journal of Translational Medicine.