New breath test could help early cancer diagnoses

04 January 2019 08:19

The breathalysers could become a common sight in GP surgeries

The breathalysers could become a common sight in GP surgeries

A new cancer-detecting breathalyser test is being trialled in the UK - in a move that could revolutionise the way the disease is diagnosed.

The Breath Biopsy device detects cancer hallmarks in molecules exhaled by patients, and scientists hope it will lead to a simpler, cheaper method of spotting cancers at an early stage.

Developers claim it has potential to not only save thousands of lives, but millions of pounds in healthcare costs.

Best chance of survival

The two-year trial, taking place at Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge, is recruiting 1,500 participants including healthy individuals and cancer patients.

Initially patients with suspected oesophageal and stomach cancers will be asked to try the test, before the trail is extended to include prostate, kidney, bladder, liver and pancreatic cancers.

Lead investigator Professor Rebecca Fitzgerald, from the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Centre, said: "We urgently need to develop new tools, like this breath test, which could help to detect and diagnose cancer earlier, giving patients the best chance of surviving their disease.

"Through this clinical trial we hope to find signatures in breath needed to detect cancers earlier. It's the crucial next step in developing this technology."

The PAN Cancer Trial For Early Detection Of Cancer In Breath is being run by Cancer Research UK in conjunction with British company Owlstone Medical, which invented the test.

Common sight in GP surgeries

Participants of the trial will be asked to breathe into the breathalyser for 10 minutes.

Airborne molecules called volatile organic compounds (VOCs) collected by the test will then be sent to a laboratory in Cambridge for analysis.

Cells in the body produce a range of VOCs as part of their normal metabolic processes. The molecules find their way into the lungs and emerge in the breath.

The idea behind the test is that cancer can cause recognisable alterations in the pattern of VOCs.

If the technology is shown to be reliable and accurate, cancer breathalysers could become common sight in GP surgeries.

Almost half of cancers are diagnosed at a late stage in England, according to government figures, with late diagnosis one of the main reasons why only 12% of oesophageal cancer patients survive as long as 10 years.

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