Due to the discomfort and expense of traditional methods of screening for cancer such as CT screening and mammograms, cancer may not be detected until the patient is in a more advanced stage. Moreover, current diagnostic tests are typically invasive or uncomfortable and expose patients to the potentially harmful effects of radiation.
With the mission of facilitating more regular cancer screening, detecting cancer in earlier stages and improving survival rates, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology are developing a cancer breathalyzer. The initial indications that have been investigated are breast cancer, lung cancer and dehydration.
The test works by having a patient blow into a tube and the breath being captured in a specialized storage container. The breath (which can be stored for up to six weeks in proper refrigeration) is then sent to a lab where analysis is applied to look for the compounds given off indicative of cancerous cells. Compounds such as those related to oxidative stress—the body’s response to inflammation—may be an indication of disease.
The system that is used to analyze the compounds from a subject’s breath combine gas chromatography—a technique for separating complex compounds—with mass spectrometry, which identifies the chemical makeup of a substance. Specific patterns in the compounds are then found and used to confirm the presence or absence of the disease.
In recent tests, Georgia Tech’s cancer breathalyzer was able to determine whether the sample came from a breast cancer patient or healthy subject 78% of the time. The accuracy rate for detecting lung cancer was 75% and the breathalyzer differentiated lung cancer from breast cancer with 88% accuracy. It is expected that the cancer breathalyzer will have an accelerated clinical trial since it is a non-invasive screening device. Should this cancer breathalyzer win regulatory approval, the cost of testing for breast cancer could drop from around $800 to $100.Cancer Breathalyzer,