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Cancer

A breathing test to detect cancer hits clinical trials

 

A cancer diagnosis is a long and complicated process but the new study may cut down the diagnostic test for cancer. A new clinical trial is soon to start for a breathing test to detect cancer.

The researchers believe this new tool will discover multiple types of cancers in less time. This early diagnostic will ensure timely and effective treatment. Cancer Research UK Cambridge Centre carried out the study and its trial will be completed in collaboration with Owlstone Medical. Note that Owlstone Medical which has previously developed the Breath Biopsy technology.

This idea to detect cancer with a simple breath test is thrilling and surprising. Earlier the doctor identifies cancer cells, better the treatment will be. It only needs a clinical trial for being commercially available.

The idea sounds new but it is based on a study from the past. This same idea was also proposed for the diagnosis of certain gastrointestinal diseases.

How does this breathing test work?

This diagnostic tool is based on an idea that a device in which people breathe has the Breath Biopsy technology, which automatically detects volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

These VOCs are the odorous molecules that are released in the breath when cells metabolize. This is a normal function of the human body. But when cancer hits a person, cell’s metabolism is changed.

The cells now produce a different VOC pattern, which is easily detectable with this technology. Scientists are convinced that different types of cancers release different VOC patterns. So that is how the breathing test will detect different types of cancer.

Understanding basic cancer biology

Medical experts believe that cancers of the neck, stomach, esophagus, or lung will be easily detectable by this test. Though each type of cancer has its own different biology in which it releases different compounds in the body. Those releasing a unique chemical fingerprint are more likely to be detectable with this test.

The type and level of VOCs released from different cancers may vary between patient and healthy person. This release may be affected by diet, smoking, alcohol or by certain medical conditions.

This test is not a replacement for traditional diagnostic tests. Ideally, its use is in general practice as a basic test for cancer. It will help to know if patients need further testing for cancer.

Potential challenges to this breath test

Generally, it is hard to develop any screening test. The basic tests like this proposed tool for cancer detection should be easy to use and inexpensive. More than that, they should be accurate and effective as per their purpose. Only if a test fulfills these requirements, it can be used on a large population to identify affected one.

The challenges to develop such a screening test are that the human body is extremely complex. It normally releases hundreds of these VOCs and it is difficult to decide whether these results show cancer or what.

Also, every individual differs from others, biologically. Just like everything else, each person has his own breath signatures, which may be with or without cancer. So finding a cancer signature breath in this huge biological diversity is extremely challenging.

 

Areeba Hussain

The author is a Medical Microbiologist and a healthcare writer. She is a post-graduate of Medical Microbiology and Immunology with distinction. She is an author of six research papers and currently working as a research associate in a Research Lab.

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