Researchers from the Israel Institute of Technology have invented a breath test to check for head and neck cancers.
Breath was collected from 87 subjects, some of whom were healthy, some had head or neck cancer and some had lung cancer.
They then tested 62 of the samples using an artificial nose called the Nanoscale Artificial nose (NA-NOSE) that had nanoparticle sensors to detect the chemical structure of the breath.
The device was able to distinguish between the breath of healthy people and those with cancer.
“There’s an urgent need to develop new ways to detect head-and-neck cancer because diagnosis of the disease is complicated, requiring specialist examinations," lead researcher, Professor Hossam Haick said.
Patterns of molecules found in head and neck patients could be detected with a simple breath test in an early, small study.
“We now need to test these results in larger studies to find if this could lead to a potential screening method for the disease," he said.
Head and neck cancer occurs in about 8,700 people every year in the UK. It is the eighth most common cancer worldwide and less than half of patients survive because it is often diagnosed late as there is no reliable way to screen for it. Having a screening test could potentially improve survival rates.
The researchers concluded:
‘The presented results could lead to the development of a cost-effective, fast, and reliable method for the differential diagnosis of HNC that is based on breath testing with an NA-NOSE, with a future potential as screening tool.’
“Cancer Research UK is leading initiatives to improve early diagnosis of cancer; it’s incredibly important to spot the disease as soon as possible when it is easier to treat successfully," said Dr Lesley Walker, from Cancer Research UK.
While Walker said initial results in the small study showed promise, he said many more years of reseach are needed to determine how it could be used in a clinic.
Sources: Cancer Research UK, 20th April 2011.