Can Breathalyzer Work for Cancer Detection?

Owlstone’s medical breath test for the detection of various types of cancer is being analyzed in the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Centre. During the clinical trials, patients will have to provide a sample of their breath for analysis by breathing into the Breathalyzer. The collected sample will then be examined by Owlstone in its breath biopsy laboratory in Cambridge. A total of 1500 volunteers will be recruited to provide their samples for the clinical trial. Patients suspected of being suffering from oesophageal and stomach cancers will be recruited for the trial during the initial phase following which patients suspected to be suffering from bladder, kidney, liver, and pancreatic cancers will be included. The research also aims to list the similarity in symptoms of different cancer categories. These developments are crucial as they can usher in a new era of non-invasive cancer detection, which current relies heavily on CBC testing, especially for blood cancer cases.

Is Breath Biopsy the Key to Non-Invasive Cancer Diagnosis?

The breath biopsy technique will examine the presence of volatile organic compounds (VOC) such as ketones and aldehydes produced by cells in a patient’s breath. Normal cells do produce VOCs, however, the pattern and amount of VOCs found in the exhaled breath is estimated to change if the metabolism of healthy cells changes. Owlstone plans to utilize this information to ascertain that whether a particular metabolic factor is indicative of the presence of cancer. The discovery is not new and has already been proven for several cancer types individually. However, the current clinical trial aims to detect multiple cancers using a single diagnostic test.

The research could usher in a new era in the diagnosis of cancer which could comprehensively increase the survival rates of cancer patients. Most patients are diagnosed with cancer at the later stages owing to the fear of invasive tests or the lack of information about the signs and symptoms that point towards the manifestation of cancer in the healthy body. The breath test provides a quick and non-invasive prospect that can help in the early detection of cancer. Further, the breath analysis can aid governments in saving millions that are spent on cancer diagnostics. The Breathalyzer could prove useful in the detection of esophageal cancer which is difficult to detect in the early stages and has a 5-year relative survival rate of 43% in case of localized appearance of cancer. Further, innovations in the field plan to use Breathalyzer diagnosis for detection of 17 diseases. Researches towards developing sensitive Breathalyzer that can be linked to smartphones is underway. The successful clinical trial of breath biopsy procedure will enable the use of diagnostics in general practice and aid in the early detection of cancer.

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