Research carried out in collaboration between University of Colorado Cancer Center (CO, USA) and Technion University (Haifa, Israel) has demonstrated that a device analyzing organic compounds in exhaled breath can distinguish patients with lung cancer and from those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Furthermore, the test can also define the stage of any cancer present.
Recent lung cancer screening guidelines by the US Preventative Task Force have shown that screening via low-dose computed tomography can reduce disease mortality by 20%, but more sensitive screening causes increased incidence of false positives, primarily in the form of noncancerous lung nodules. This has resulted in increased need for more specific tests to distinguish between malignant and benign cancer.
“The metabolism of lung cancer patients is different than the metabolism of healthy people,” stated Fred R Hirsch, investigator at the University of Colorado Cancer Center and Professor of Medical Oncology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. These differences in metabolism can provide distinct signatures for healthy breath, COPD or lung cancer that therefore allow the different pathologies (or lack of) to be distinguished.
These volatile organic compounds in the exhaled breath are analyzed by the device, which functions via patients blowing up a balloon that is then attached to an extremely sensitive gold nanoparticle sensor. The results can be analyzed rapidly, due to the recent development of a USB device that can quickly be plugged into a computer.
The data, presented at the 50th Annual Meeting of the American Society for Clinical Oncology (held 30 May–3 June, Chicago, IL, USA), could help transform the diagnosis of lung cancer. “This could totally revolutionize lung cancer screening and diagnosis. The perspective here is the development of a nontraumatic, easy, cheap approach to early detection and differentiation of lung cancer,” stated Hirsch.
Furthermore, the device could be used for more than simply diagnosis. Hirsch explained that “In addition to using levels of volatile organic compounds to diagnose lung cancer, we could eventually measure the change in patients’ levels of VOCs across time with the intent of, for example, monitoring how well a patient responds to specific treatments.” The University of Colorado Cancer Center is now investigating whether a breath now and a breath after treatment could define whether a patient should stay with a drug regimen or explore other options.
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