U.S. researchers have reported that damage to cells lining the mouth can predict similar damage in the lungs which eventually leads to lung cancer in smokers.

They hope in the future that it may be possible to swab the mouths of smokers to predict who is developing lung cancer, saving painful and dangerous biopsies of the lung.

Dr Li Mao, an expert in head, nech and lung cancer at the University of Texas said, "The process may also lead to tests that will predict other cancers,

"Our study opens the door to enhancing our ability to predict who has a higher probability of getting tobacco related cancers. Not only lung cancer, but pancreatic, bladder and head and neck cancers, which also are associated with tobacco use."

Smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer. It causes few symptoms until it is advanced, which means patients are rarely diagnosed or treated until it is too late for a cure.

Speaking to a meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research in San Diego, they said they looked for specific damage to these genes in both lung samples and mouth samples from 125 long-time smokers.

"We are talking about just a brushing inside of the cheek to get the same information we would from lung brushings obtained through bronchoscopy."

The researchers added, "In 95 percent of those whose genes were affected, they were affected in both the mouth and the lung. This would make an easier test for pre-lung cancer than having to access the lung and this could be useful in monitoring for lung cancer and also looking to see if prevention measures might work."

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