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Detecting Lung Cancer On Your Breath?

Feb 18, 2015 06:05 PM EST
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Detecting cancer early on is key to combating its effects, and now scientists have developed a way to detect lung cancer on your breath, according to new research.

The device, reported in the journal Review of Scientific Instruments, basically works as a breathalyzer. It involves highly sensitive fluorescence-based sensors that can rapidly identify cancer related volatile organic compounds - biomarkers found exclusively in the exhaled breath of some people with lung cancer.

This novel method, which is both safe and effective, can potentially save lives. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more people in the United States die from lung cancer than any other type of cancer, for both men and women.

However the research team, from Chongqing University in China, is quick to point out that the device will still need to prove effective in clinical trials before it becomes a widespread diagnostic tool.

"Our results show that the device can discriminate different kinds and concentrations of cancer related volatile organic compounds with a nearly 100 percent accurate rate," lead author Jin-can Lei said in a statement. "This would also be a rapid method in that the entire detection process in our experiment only takes about 20 minutes."

Specifically, the device can detect lung cancer related gases at a very low concentration, or below 50 parts per billion (ppb) - that's the equivalent to a pinch of salt in 10 tons of potato chips. This way, it can potentially identify lung cancer at its early stage and give patients enough notice to start effective treatments.

According to the CDC, the number of people who die from lung cancer each year has steadily increased over the last 15 years to 159,260 people in 2014, and deaths continue to rise among women. This is in part because lung cancer is such a deadly disease. Even though comparatively more Americans are annually diagnosed with breast or prostate cancer, lung cancer claims far many more lives.

While cancer screening methods like CT scans are currently available, even more safe and effective options are needed. It is well known that the earlier on you catch cancer, the better you can treat it.

"Thus, given a complete fluorescent-image database of all lung cancer related gases, this device could be used to identify and quantify various gases characteristic of lung cancer from people's exhaled air, " said Chang-jun Hou, the research team leader. "This may lead to a simple, rapid breathalyzer for early diagnosis of lung cancer."

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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