Study finds new progress has been made for breath tests in detecting cancer

Cancer Is Now the Leading Cause of Death in Several Countries.

The quest for accurate, rapid breath tests to detect cancer has made major headway in Australia.

According to a newly published article in the British Journal of Cancer, Flinders University researchers have reported notable advancement toward creating a way to test exhaled breath profiles that precisely distinguish between head and neck cancer from non-cancer patients.

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“We sought to determine the diagnostic accuracy of breath analysis as a non-invasive test for detecting head and neck cancer, which in time may result in a simple method to improve treatment outcomes and patient morbidity,” said lead researchers Dr. Roger Yazbek and associate professor Eng Ooi in a press release from the university.

The study collected breath samples from 181patients who were thought to have early-stage head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) ahead of treatment. Breath was analyzed for volatile organic compounds using a selected ion flow-tube mass spectrometer. Researchers used statistical modelling, which applies statistical analysis to the obtained dataset. By doing so, researchers could generate a breath test that could distinguish between patients with cancer and benign disease, which was the control. On average they distinguished with a sensitivity and specificity of 85%. Tissue biopsies analysis confirmed diagnosis.

“With these strong results, we hope to trial the method in primary care settings, such as GP clinics, to further develop its use in early-stage screening for HNSCC in the community,” said co-lead author Dr. Nuwan Dharmawardana.

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The American Cancer Society states screening boosts the likelihood of finding particular cancers early at the point when curability is most likely possible. Tests done to diagnose cancer include radiology tests that rely on imaging, biopsy tests that take tissue and cell samples and cytology tests, which involve “looking at single cells and small clusters of cells,” according to the American Cancer Society.

While breath tests have been in clinical trials within the last year, 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, told Healthline developing screening tests for them can be tough.

“The challenge with developing a screening breath test is that our bodies are so complex that we release hundreds of these VOCs, that it is difficult to decide what results are meaningful to clinical care,” he said.

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