Breath test to detect cancer: Study

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According to researchers cancer may soon be detectable using a breath test. They are now developing sensors that can detect chemical markers of lung, breast, bowel and prostate cancer in a person's breath. The new portable device has been purported as an “electronic nose” that can detect early cancers. As a cancer grows, the surface of the cells emits chemicals. The research found that sensors – involving gold nanoparticles – could be used to detect these chemicals in the breath.

The study involved 177 volunteers including healthy participants and patients with different cancers. The patient's age, gender and lifestyle habits, such as smoking, did not skew the results. The test successfully identified the cancers. The study appeared in the latest issue of the British Journal of Cancer this Tuesday.

According to Professor Abraham Kuten, one of the researchers from the Technion Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, Israel, “This study shows that an 'electronic nose' can distinguish between healthy and malignant breath, and can also differentiate between the breath of patients with different cancer types…If we can confirm these initial results in large-scale studies, this new technology could become a simple tool for early diagnosis of cancer along with imaging. It could also be an easy way to assess and monitor the effectiveness of cancer treatment and detect relapses earlier.”

According to Dr Lesley Walker, from the charity Cancer Research UK, which owns the journal this study was published in said, “It is important to say at the outset that this is a small study at a very early stage and much more research is needed to see if breath can be used in the detection of cancer. These results are interesting and show that there is the potential to develop a single breath test to detect these cancers… Strengthening the methods for early diagnosis of cancer as well as improved treatments will have a significant impact on cutting death rates…Breast, lung, bowel and prostate cancers are the four most common types of cancer in the UK. They often go undetected until the disease is well established and are the most common causes of death from cancer.”

Dr. Ananya Mandal

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Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

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