Research holds out promise of breath test for lung cancer

06 June 2014

A study presented at a scientific meeting suggests a reliable, non-invasive breath test for lung cancer could be developed soon.

Led by the University of Colorado Cancer Center in Denver, the study showed how a device that used a gold nanoparticle sensor could not only tell whether exhaled breath had come from a patient with COPD or lung cancer, but it could also sense whether the cancer was in early or advanced stages.

The study which was presented at the 50th Annual Meeting of the American Meeting of the American Society for Clinical Oncology, (ASCO) in Chicago, Illionois is the work of Fred R Hirsch, professor of medical oncology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, and colleagues.

According to professor Hirsch, a breath test for lung cancer could totally revolutionise lung cancer screening and diagnosis. He added, the perspective here was the development of a non-traumatic, easy, cheap approach to early detection and differentiation of lung cancer.

This was not the first time that the promise of a breath test for lung cancer, and other cancers, had been reported. In 2007, Medical News Today reported a prototype breath test for lung cancer that used a colorimetric sensor array to analyse the chemical fingerprint of exhaled breath.

The test would not only need to avoid false positives, but would also need to differentiate between cancer and other conditions.

According to Hirsch, the metabolism of people with lung cancer was different to that of healthy people and this was reflected in the chemical signature of their breath.

He added, it should be possible to differentiate among people with lung cancer, healthy subjects and also those with other lung conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), the Austrian Tribune reported.

A preliminary analysis of 80 lung cancer patients (64 with advanced stage ) and 31 patients with COPD showed that the nanosensor array and breath test  distinguished significantly between COPD and lung cancer (accuracy of 85 per cent), COPD and advanced lung cancer (accuracy of 82 per cent), and early and advanced lung cancer (accuracy of 79 per cent).

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