The pursuit of low-cost and non-invasional early cancer screening methods is a common goal of medical researchers, and an Australian team claims to have made significant progress in this area. The team developed a breath test that detected exhalation characteristics associated with neck cancer, and the tool showed high accuracy in early trials.
In the past few years, we have studied many promising cancer exhaling tests. Many of these techniques work by analyzing volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in our breath, which develop unique patterns when our body’s metabolism is destroyed by disease.
Efforts to detect and classify these unique breath-based biomarkers have recently gained some upbeat momentum, with promising results from studies involving respiratory tests for esophageal and stomach cancers, and we have seen respiratory tests for lung cancer and more general approaches enter clinical trials.
For the new study, from Flinders University in Australia, researchers focused their attention on head and neck cancer. This accounts for 6 per cent of all cancers and kills more than 300,000 people around the world each year. If the disease is detected early, treatment is often effective, and the late form of the disease has a high probability of poor prognosmation.
“Our work found a unique VOCs feature in a patient queue in Australia that distinguishes head and neck cancer patients from non-cancer patients,” lead author Dr Roger Yazbek explained to New Atlas.
The queue consists of 181 suspected early-stage head and neck cancer patients who have not yet been treated. Using a selected ion flow tube mass spectrometer for VOCs analysis of their exhalation, the researchers were able to identify a specific pattern associated with head and neck cancer.
During the exhaling test, the researchers found that it accurately detected 80 percent of cancers and 86 percent of benign cases. These results were analyzed through an tissue biopsy and then confirmed in another group of patients.
“A key advantage of our work is that we use an independent team to confirm the accuracy of our tests,” Yazbek said. “Even though the number of patients in this study is relatively small, the accuracy of the tests remains in this independent patient population, which gives us greater confidence in the availability of the tests in clinical applications.”
Starting here, the researchers hope to build on these promising results with larger trials involving a more diverse group of patients with different races, genders and stages of cancer. If it proves successful in a larger queue, it can find a way to get into clinical use.
“Our grand vision is a handheld device that can be used at a medical point to quickly provide doctors with information about whether a person has suspected head and neck cancer,” Yazbek told us.