FEB 05, 2017 6:54 AM PST

A Breathalyzer for Stomach and Esophageal Cancer

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham

In many instances, cancer can expertly conceal itself, but not its chemical compositions. Exploiting the chemical signatures of cancer is a growing field of cancer diagnostics. Now, researchers at the Imperial College London have developed a breathalyzer that picks up chemical traces for the detection of stomach and esophageal cancer.

The premise behind a breathalyzer is the detection of specific chemical footprints in our breath vapors. Specifically, the device picks up volatile organic compounds (VOCs), traces of which can reveal if you’ve had too much to drink, or if your blood glucose is too high. In the case of health and medicine, researchers are looking to adapt the breathalyzer for the non-invasive detection of diseases.

For stomach and esophageal cancer, a breathalyzer test could facilitate early detection and drastically improve survival rates. "At present the only way to diagnose esophageal cancer or stomach cancer is with endoscopy. This method is expensive, invasive and has some risk of complications,” said Sheraz Markar, an NIHR Clinical Trials Fellow from Imperial College London, who presented the research at the European Cancer Congress 2017.

"A breath test could be used as a non-invasive, first-line test to reduce the number of unnecessary endoscopies. In the longer term this could also mean earlier diagnosis and treatment, and better survival,” said Markar.

Previous research hinted at five chemicals that differed between healthy patients, and those with stomach and esophageal cancer. The chemicals include butyric, pentanoic and hexanoic acids, butanal, and decanal.

To test whether these chemical signatures can be diagnostic of cancer in patients, the team analyzed breath samples from 335 people, nearly half of whom were diagnosed with stomach and esophageal cancer.

The results revealed the test was 85 percent accurate at identifying cancer. The sensitivity was 80 and the specificity was 81.

"Because cancer cells are different to healthy ones, they produce a different mixture of chemicals. This study suggests that we may be able detect these differences and use a breath test to indicate which patients are likely to have cancer of the esophagus and stomach, and which do not. However, these findings must be validated in a larger sample of patients before the test could be used in the clinic,” said Dr. Markar.

While the study is an important milestone in a non-invasive test for stomach and esophageal cancer, the results have to be validated in larger trials comparing the accuracy of the breathalyzer to conventional endoscopy exams. If successful, trials like these can pave the way for the detection of other cancer types using the breathalyzer.

Additional sources: The European CanCer Organisation (ECCO), The Telegraph

About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
You May Also Like
SEP 27, 2021
Cancer
Inflammation Promotes Pancreatic Cancer Progression
SEP 27, 2021
Inflammation Promotes Pancreatic Cancer Progression
Inflammation occurs when the immune response, including immune cells and mediators they produce, protect you from danger ...
OCT 28, 2021
Cancer
NF-κB: a Trick or a Treat for Cancer?
OCT 28, 2021
NF-κB: a Trick or a Treat for Cancer?
A family of proteins, known as transcription factors, regulate the biological process of converting DNA into RNA. T ...
NOV 10, 2021
Cannabis Sciences
Does Cannabis Use Reduce the Risk of Cancer?
NOV 10, 2021
Does Cannabis Use Reduce the Risk of Cancer?
In medical terminology, there are few terms as imposing as ‘cancer.’ According to the Centers for Disea ...
DEC 15, 2021
Health & Medicine
Limonene: The Terpene to Deploy against Cancer
DEC 15, 2021
Limonene: The Terpene to Deploy against Cancer
Limonene is one of the most well-known cannabis terpenes, and it’s getting increased attention in the medical prof ...
JAN 07, 2022
Drug Discovery & Development
The genetic testing company 23andMe begins phase 1 clinical trial for cancer drug
JAN 07, 2022
The genetic testing company 23andMe begins phase 1 clinical trial for cancer drug
This week, 23andMe, the consumer genetic testing giant, announced that it has begun a phase 1 clinical trial o ...
JAN 27, 2022
Drug Discovery & Development
Light Therapy Accelerates Healing of Skin Damage from Cancer Radiation Therapy
JAN 27, 2022
Light Therapy Accelerates Healing of Skin Damage from Cancer Radiation Therapy
A low-dose light therapy known as photobiomodulation may accelerate the healing of skin damaged by cancer radiation ther ...
Loading Comments...