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Detecting Lung Cancer in a Breath

Jun 05, 2014 12:40 PM EDT

Scientists are close to developing the most non-invasive lung cancer test yet. All patients will need to do, researchers say, is breathe.

Researchers from the University of Colorado Cancer Center presented their prototype breath test at the 50th Annual Meeting of the American Society for Clinical Oncology (ASCO), showing that not only is the science of a breath test for lung cancer sound, but also it can prove efficient in clinical testing, with few false positives

"This could totally revolutionize lung cancer screening and diagnosis. The perspective here is the development of a non-traumatic, easy, cheap approach to early detection and differentiation of lung cancer," researcher Fred R. Hirsch said in a statement.

According to the team, the test requires patients to blow up a sterilized balloon. This balloon is then attached to an extremely sensitive sensor made up of gold nanoparticles. The particles trap organic compounds in the exhaled breath, essentially holding them down for analysis.

According to Hirsch, the analysis looks at metabolism signatures in the patient's breath in particular, as metabolism is different between people who are healthy, have lung cancer, or have Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) - which presents symptoms similar to lung cancer.

The researchers presented the results of early experimental trials, in which 358 subjects were asked to give breath samples for the nanoparticle device. Of these subjects, 213 had been previously confirmed to have lung cancer using traditional methods.

Analysis of preliminary results of 80 cancer patients and 31 patients with COPD revealed that the test had an acceptably high accuracy rate for a prototype design, distinguishing between COPD and lung cancer with 85 percent accuracy. The device was also able to distinguish between early stage and late stage lung cancers with 79 accuracy.

Researchers hope that this device could one day be used to help physicians determine how well a patient is responding to certain treatment options early on. However, accuracy will need to be greatly improved to reach this goal.

The study results were presented at the 50th Annual Meeting of the ASCO and should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

An abstract of the results can be found here.

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