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Cancer breathalysers could save lives

Lung cancer could now be detected through a simple and cheap breath test, says new research.

Researchers developed a special device which tested the exhaled breath of people with suspicious lung lesions that were detected on CT scans. Their breath sample was tested for levels of four cancer-specific substances, called ‘carbonyls’.


Results of the research showed that having higher levels of carbonyls in your breath is predictive of lung cancer in 95% of patients, whilst having a normal level of the carbonyls was predictive of a noncancerous growth in 80% of patients.

Elevated carbonyl levels returned to normal once the lung cancer patients had surgery to remove the cancer. Dr Michael Bousamra was part of the University of Louisville research team. He said, “Instead of sending our patients for invasive biopsy procedures when a suspicious lung mass is identified, our study suggests that exhaled breath could identify which patients may be referred for immediate surgery.”

With medical news full of stories which include specialised ‘cancer breathalysers’, tools which can detect specific cancer compounds in the breath samples of patients, healthcare professionals can look forward to a more mainstream version in the near future – something which will help cut down on diagnosis time and help save lives.

Researchers from the UK’s University of Huddersfield are working on a breathalyser-type device which will be able to detect the very early signs of cancer, also making finding a cure much more likely. Lung cancer is one of the world’s biggest killers, and accounts for a relatively huge 6% of deaths in the UK, largely because treatment on patients with lung cancer is often ineffective by the time symptoms are diagnosed.

Dr Rachel Airley, the University of Huddersfield lecturer who developed the breath test project said, “The intention is that we will catch patients before they start getting the symptoms. Once lung cancer patients start experiencing symptoms it is very often advanced and has a very low cure rate.”

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