By: Seth Hays for Medtech1
If a generation ago an apple a day kept the doctor away, in the future, a stick of gum might do the same thing. Researchers from Finland have developed a gum that can potentially reduce the risk of getting cancer of the mouth, pharynx and esophagus caused by smoking and excessive alcohol consumption.
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The following are risk factors for oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancer, according to the American Cancer Society:
Approximately 90 percent of patients with oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancer use tobacco. Smokers are six times more likely to get these types of cancers than non-smokers.
75 to 80 percent of these cancer patients use alcohol heavily. These cancers are six times more likely to appear in drinkers than non-drinkers.
Irritation on the inside of the mouth, such as poor fitting dentures, increases the risk of cancer.
Poor nutrition increased the risk for this type of cancer.
Oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancer occurs more often in blacks than whites.
An American dies every hour from oral or pharyngeal cancer.
It is estimated that in developed countries, 80 percent of mouth, pharynx and esophagus cancer is related to smoking and drinking too much alcohol. According the Finnish researchers who developed the gum, this can be partly explained by exposure to carcinogenic acetaldehyde - a compound that is markedly increased after smoking or drinking. It has been known for decades that I-cysteine, a harmless amino acid, can neutralize acetaldehyde.
University of Helsinki’s Dr. Mikko Salaspuro conducted research in the '90s linking ethanol exposure of gut flora to the production of acetaldehyde. Further research in Japan backed up his findings linking high amounts of acetaldehyde to cancer. Certain Asian populations lack a gene to metabolize the carcinogen, possibly explaining the markedly higher rates of digestive tract cancer in Japanese heavy drinkers.
Dr. Salaspuro, along with fellow University of Helsinki Professor Martti Marvola, developed a capsule that releases cysteine so that when taken after smoking or drinking, it would reduce the levels of cancer-causing acetaldehyde. Turning the capsule into gum form makes it an easy to use and readily marketable product.
"We know that with this chewing gum it is possible to eliminate acetaldehyde totally from the saliva during smoking. We do hope that this will in the future turn out to be a novel method for the prevention of alcohol and tobacco smoking associated oral cancers,” Dr. Salaspuro said about the gum. "However, long-term randomized controlled trials are naturally needed before the possible cancer preventive effects can be proved.”
For now the patent for the gum is held by Finnish company Biohit Oyj, which will market the gum under the name XyliCyst. The gum was unveiled at the 11th International Congress of Oral Cancer held in Italy in May.
Researchers are continuing to develop products that release cysteine throughout the digestive tract, hopefully preventing cancers through the entire system.
According to the American Cancer Society, 30,990 Americans (20,180 men and 10,810 women) will be diagnosed with oral cavity or oropharyngeal cancer in 2006, causing approximately 8,000 deaths. Of the 30,990 diagnosed, only 58 percent will be alive in five years. This makes oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancers more deadly than cervical cancer, cancer of the brain, liver, testes, kidney or skin cancer.
However the American Cancer Society also has some good news to report. The number of new cases has dropped over the past 20 years. As well, during the past two years, the rate has dropped by 5 percent a year. Following this drop in new cancer diagnoses, the death rates for oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancer have also been decreasing since the late 1970s.