AIMS--To assess keratin profiles from smears of malignant and contralateral normal oral mucosa as part of the development of a screening procedure for oral cancer based on exfoliative cytology. METHODS--Smears were taken from oral cancers (confirmed by biopsy) and from the contralateral site of 20 patients. Using a panel of antikeratin antibodies, the keratins expressed by these cells were identified using a standard immunocytochemical technique (Vectastain) and assessed on a 3 point scale. RESULTS--Using chi 2 analysis, noticeable differences between the keratin profiles for malignant mucosal smears compared with the contralateral mucosal smears were found. This was particularly evident for the simple epithelial keratins. CONCLUSION--Individual keratins can be identified in smears from oral cancers. The identification of simple epithelial keratins seem to be the best keratin markers associated with malignancy. Their detection within smears from oral lesions could be valuable in the early diagnosis of oral cancer.
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