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Study Suggests Skin Cancer Could be Detected through Odor

Update Date: Jun 14, 2013 11:30 AM EDT
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Melanoma is considered one of the deadliest forms of skin cancer. Melanoma occurs when the melanocytes, which are the skin cells that help create skin pigment and color, are afflicted with cancerous cells. This type of skin cancer could be blamed for around 75 percent of skin cancer-related deaths, which is why early detection is vital. Currently, melanoma is detected via a visual observation, which requires diligent examinations throughout one's body. This technique does not ensure that people or doctors will find the tumor right away, which would result in a later diagnosis with poorer survival rates. In a new study, researchers attempted to find another way of detecting melanoma. The researchers from the Monell Center and other institutions found that an odor test done on human skin cells could potentially help doctors screen patients for this type of skin cancer.

In this study, the researchers utilized sampling and analytical methods in order to identify VOCs, which are known as volatile organic compounds. VOCs are airborne chemical molecules produced by the human skin. The researchers grew cancer cells in cultures under a lab setting and identified VOCs during three different stages of the cancer as well as when the cells were healthy.

"There is a potential wealth of information waiting to be extracted from examination of VOCs associated with various diseases, including cancers, genetic disorders, and viral or bacterial infections," George Preti, Ph.D. said according to Medical Xpress. Preti is an organic chemist at Monell and is one of the study's senior authors.

The researchers used gas chromatography-mass spectrometry techniques to evaluate the compounds of the VOCs that were being released from the multiple melanoma cells. The researchers found that melanoma cells emitted certain compounds that were not present in the VOCs of healthy melanocytes. The researchers also found differences in the multiple stages of melanoma.

"This study demonstrates the usefulness of examining VOCs from diseases for rapid and noninvasive diagnostic purposes," Preti added. "The methodology should also allow us to differentiate stages of the disease process."

The researchers are optimistic that these findings could help develop a new test for melanoma. The study was published in Journal of Chromatography B.

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