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Breath Test Can Save Lives by Detecting Stomach and Esophageal Cancers Early

07/02/2017

Breath Test Can Save Lives by Detecting Stomach and Esophageal Cancers EarlyA simple breath test which measures the levels of five specific chemicals in a person's breath could detect stomach and esophageal cancer, a new study has found.

At present, the only way to diagnose cancers of the stomach and oesophagus is with endoscopy, an invasive, expensive method, which isn’t without its complication risks. It's hoped that the new breath test method could not only save thousands of lives each year, but also negate the need for patients to undergo painful endoscopy exams.

The breath test works by measuring the levels of butyric, pentanoic and hexanoic acids, butanal, and decanal in people's breath samples. These can then be compared to a 'chemical signature' indicative of stomach and esophageal cancer.

Presenting her team's findings at the European Cancer Congress 2017 in Amsterdam, Dr Sheraz Markar, an NIHR Clinical Trials Fellow from Imperial College London, said the 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."

The clinical trial involved 335 patients from three different London hospitals, 163 of which had been diagnosed with stomach or esophageal cancer and 172 who had showed no evidence of cancer when they underwent an endoscopy.

The researchers found that the breath test had an overall accuracy level of 85%, with a sensitivity of 80% and a specificity of 81%. This means that not only was the breath test good at picking up those who had cancer (sensitivity), it was also good at correctly identifying who did not have cancer (specificity).

Dr Justine Alford from Cancer Research UK welcomed the findings. "The next step is to see if it can detect the disease at its earliest stages," she said.
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