Clinical trials have begun on a new device that’s designed to pick up the different “signatures” of different cancers.
Imagine being able to detect cancer simply by breathing into a device similar to a breathalyzer.
It could become a reality, as a new clinical trial will soon evaluate this technology.
Researchers say the new device has the potential to detect multiple types of cancer.
It could offer an early detection method that would allow for earlier treatments.
Researchers from the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Centre are conducting the trial with Owlstone Medical, which developed the Breath Biopsy technology.
“The potential to detect a cancer early through a simple, noninvasive breath test is really exciting,” said Dr. Nicholas Rohs, an assistant professor of hematology and oncology in thoracic medical oncology at The Blavatnik Family – Chelsea Medical Center at Mount Sinai in New York.
“The earlier we discover a cancer, the more likely we can cure it,” he told Healthline.
He says that although the technology still has a long way to go, it could be a “powerful clinical tool” if refined.
A cancer breath test may sound like something new, but it’s been studied in the past. It’s also used to diagnose gastrointestinal conditions.
In addition, we already know that people with kidney or liver failure, for example, have changes in the scent of their breath, Rohs notes.
How the test works
Here’s how the test works.
People breathe into a device containing the Breath Biopsy technology, which detects volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
These are odorous molecules released in our breath, which develop when cells metabolize.
When a cell’s metabolism is altered, as it does with cancer, the cells can release a different VOC pattern. The test is designed to identify patterns associated with different forms of the disease.
“The idea is to detect volatiles which may have signatures specific to different cancer types,” Dr. Rebecca Fitzgerald, the lead trial investigator at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Centre, told Healthline.
Some evidence supports that different types of cancers have different VOC patterns.
“The metabolism of different sorts of cancer cells is different according to the mutations that perturb cells in specific ways,” Fitzgerald explained.
Hopefully, the researchers can correlate different VOC patterns to specific types of cancers, she adds.