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Breath test spots cancer signs, new research finds

New technology may lead to earlier detection of head-and-neck cancer

Christian Duffin

Thursday, 21 April 2011

A breath test developed by scientists in Israel could pave the way for earlier detection of head-and-neck cancers and lung cancer.

Researchers from Techion - Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa found that a device call the Nano Artificial Nose (NA-NOSE) could distinguish between the molecules found on the exhaled breath of head-and-neck cancer patients and healthy volunteers. It also recognised differences between breaths of lung cancer patients and healthy patients, and those between the two types of cancer patients.

The findings could have important implications for patients; head-and-neck cancer can be difficult to detect because there are no specific symptoms and patients can develop a secondary primary tumour affecting the entire respiratory system, including the lungs. Head and neck cancers include cancers of the eyes, nose, mouth and throat.

The researchers’ work is published in the British Journal of Cancer. They collected breath samples from 82 people in three groups: head-and-neck cancer patients, lung cancer patients and healthy people.

Lead researcher Professor Hossam Haick said: “There is an urgent need to develop new ways to detect head-and-neck cancer because diagnosis of the disease is complicated, requiring specialist examinations. We now need to test these results in larger studies to find if this could lead to a potential screening method for the disease.”

Dr Lesley Walker, Cancer Research UK’s director of cancer information, said: “These interesting results show promise for the development of a breath test to detect head-and-neck cancers, which are often diagnosed at an advanced stage. But it’s important to be clear that this is a small study, at a very early stage, so many more years of research with patients will be needed to see if a breath test could be used in the clinic.”

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