Middle-aged men of the world may be able to breath easier with a new report in the Journal of Urology, which indicates that prostate cancer can be sniffed out by an electronic nose.

Prostate cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer and one of the leading causes of cancer death, and current methods of diagnosing men for prostate cancer are both expensive and uncomfortable.

The electronic nose, or eNose, however, may be able to change that, according to researchers. The device is capable of sniffing out telltale signs of prostate cancer that emanate from urine.

Niku KJ. Oksala, a physician at Tampere University Hospital, Finland, is the lead investigator in the latest work on the prostate cancer-sniffing eNose. He said previous eNose applications have had their problems because they relied on exhaled air. Urine, he said, is a much better medium.

"Exhaled air is a problematic sample material since it requires good cooperation and technique from the patient and immediate analysis, while urine is simple to attain and store, and is therefore more feasible in clinical practice," Oksala said in a statement. "Preliminary data suggested that detection of urologic malignancies from urine headspace was possible. Our own preliminary results on prostate cancer cells encouraged us to launch this prospective clinical study."

In the study, the eNose, marketed as the ChemPro100-eNose, was used to discriminated between prostate cancer and benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH).

Fifty hospital patients diagnosed with prostate cancer and 15 diagnosed with BHA were involved in the research. Each of the patients provided urine samples at a hospital prior to having surgery for their condition.

When compared to diagnosing prostate cancer with a sample of prostate specific antigen, or PSA, the eNose was able to distinguish the true cancer from the benign disease with solid results, the researchers said.

"The performance with the eNose matches that of PSA results in previous literature and the results are achieved rapidly and in a completely noninvasive manner," Oksala said in a statement. "PSA is known to correlate positively with prostate volume, which is a potential source of diagnostic error when comparing prostate cancer with benign disease.

"According to our current analysis, prostate volume did not affect the eNose results, potentially indicating high specificity of our sensor array to cancer. We also studied whether eNose signal correlates with the size of the tumor. No such correlation was found. Further studies are now warranted to enhance current technology and to identify the molecules behind the distinct odors."