By Salynn Boyles
WebMD Health News
Review by Michael W. Smith, MD
December 5, 2012-A breath test similar to that used by drivers to determine when they drank too much has shown to be a promising cancer screening tool.
In a new study in Italy, researchers were able to identify patients with colorectal cancer with greater than 75% accuracy by analyzing their respiratory samples.
Breath test for cancer
Similar research is underway to develop devices such as alcohol detectors for detecting lung, breast, prostate, and other cancers.
If all goes well, a breath test for cancer could become a reality in just five years, said Dr. Peter Mazon, a pulmonologist at the Cleveland Clinic who studies lung cancer.
“But we’re still in the research stage, and it’s still possible that this technology will never prove clinically useful,” he says. “I still have a lot to do.”
According to Masone, breathing works in the body much like a car’s exhaust system, and what comes out gives you a sense of how things work inside.
It has long been recognized that human breathing contains a variety of compounds and that certain illnesses can affect the odor of breathing.
For example, people with poorly controlled diabetes may breathe with a fruity odor due to overproduction of a chemical called ketones. People with kidney or liver failure can get sick.
The lung cancer device that Mazzone is testing, called the “electronic nose” sensor, changes color based on the chemicals in the breath.
Chemicals that match cancer
In an Italian study, researchers used different techniques to analyze the respiratory chemistry of 37 people with colorectal cancer and 41 without cancer.
Researchers at the University of Bari Aldomoro were able to identify a chemical pattern consistent with colorectal cancer.
By identifying this chemical “fingerprint” during breathing, a test designed to hide the health of participants was able to distinguish between cancerous and non-cancerous patients in 76% of the time.
“Although the technique of breath sampling is very simple and non-invasive, this method is still in the early stages of development,” said researcher Donato F. Altomare, MD, in a statement.
The study was published online today British Surgical Journal.
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Breath test may detect colon cancer
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