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Breath Tests Sniff Out Lung Cancer

Update Date: Sep 09, 2013 01:13 PM EDT

Doctors may soon be able to use a simple breath test to diagnose patients with lung cancer.

Previous findings reveal that animals are capable of sniffing out diseases based on breath tests.  Since then, scientists have been trying to replicate this in "electronic nose" technology.  Researchers said this new technology works by detecting different markers of volatile organic compounds in breath samples. 

Lung cancer is currently diagnosed through blood and urine tests, which is followed by CT scans and chest radiographs.  However, the new noninvasive "electronic nose" technology could quickly identify and assess symptoms of people at high risk of lung cancer.

Researchers said that the new method of collecting samples of exhaled breath from people at high risk of lung cancer could be a cheap and noninvasive method of diagnosing the disease.

While scientists have not yet clearly identified which volatile organic compounds are linked to different diseases, the latest findings suggest that it is possible for an electronic nose to distinguish lung cancer from different lung conditions and healthy people.

The study involved exhaled breath samples from 252 lung cancer patients, 223 patients with different lung diseases and healthy volunteers and 265 non-smokers and 210 smokers.

In non-smokers, the electronic nose was able to correctly identify 128 participants as having lung cancer.  The nose only misdiagnosed 5 people who didn't have cancer. In smokers, the electronic nose correctly identified 114 people as having lung cancer and misdiagnosed 5 people with lung cancer.

"We have shown that it is possible to use breath tests to correctly identify lung cancer with a high sensitivity rate. The results of our study take us one step further to understanding this important new technology," lead researcher Maris Bukovskis, from the University of Latvia, said in a news release.

"The major problem with electronic nose technology is that it is individual, and each piece of equipment must be trained to distinguish between odors. This causes a problem of standardizing the practice between different centers. The next step will be to test the practice between different centers to help us think about how we can ensure consistency between all the results," said Bukovskis.

The findings were presented Monday at the European Respiratory Society (ERS) Annual Congress in Barcelona.

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