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Could a simple breath test detect cancer?

08/01/2019

A clinical trial is underway in Cambridge to determine whether a breath test can accurately detect the presence of cancer. Scientists from Cancer Research UK want to see if any cancer signatures can be picked up in breath samples. If they can, the hope is that such breath tests could be used alongside current blood and urine tests help doctors detect cancer at an early stage going forward. However, we won’t know the results of the trial for at least two years. When cells in the human body carry out biochemical reactions, molecules known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are released. But if cancer is present, a different pattern of molecules is produced. The team is trying to determine if these different signatures can be detected in a person’s breath. The ultimate goal would be to develop a test that can not only detect cancer cells, but accurately pinpoint where they are i.e. what type of cancer. For the trial, breath samples from some 1,500 individuals will be analysed – some of who have cancer. Dr David Crosby, head of early detection research at Cancer Research UK, said breath tests had the potential "to revolutionise the way we detect and diagnose cancer in the future".

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