'Revolutionary' breath test to detect cancer trial begins

Desiree Burns
January 5, 2019

The test, which is the first of its kind, analyses molecules that could indicate whether cancer is present in a person's breath at an early stage.

Breath tests that could detect cancer are a longstanding hope, with many trials taking place over the years.

It's still very early stages but if the results of this trial are positive, it isn't just people at known risk of cancer who may benefit from the breath test. Fitzgerald foresees it as a screening tool that can be used to detect cancer in the earliest stages - before a patient notices symptoms even.

Participants will be asked to breathe into the device for 10 minutes to provide a sample, which will be analyzed by Owlstone Medical's laboratory in Cambridge. Others will be healthy controls. The pattern of VOCs released can then be analysed to identify any abnormalities.

The Cancer Research UK Cambridge Centre is running the PAN Cancer trial for Early Detection of Cancer in Breath in collaboration with Owlstone Medical to test their Breath Biopsy® technology.

The researchers will start by collecting information related to esophageal and stomach cancers before expanding to prostate, kidney, bladder, liver and pancreatic cancers.

"Eventually, I imagine it used as a screening tool where you test well people, or a triage test that can sit in the surgery to help Global Positioning System know who to refer", she added.

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Dr David Crosby, head of early detection research at Cancer Research UK, said: "Technologies such as this breath test have the potential to revolutionize the way we detect and diagnose cancer in the future". "But because of the way metabolites are recycled in the body, many other volatile molecules from other areas of the body end up in the breath too". He added: 'There is increasing potential for breath-based tests to aid diagnosis, sitting alongside blood and urine tests in an effort to help doctors detect and treat disease.

She was diagnosed in her early 30s with Barrett's oesophagus, a condition where the cells lining the oesophagus are abnormal, which can be an early warning sign of cancer.

Billy Boyle, co-founder and chief executive of British company Owlstone Medical, which is behind the device, said: "The concept of providing a whole-body snapshot in a completely non-invasive way is very powerful and could reduce harm by sparing patients from more invasive tests they don't need".

'It's early stages but there are lots of promising signals that look like you will get a different signature from a cancer in your gut than you would from one in your lung, pancreas or anywhere else'.

Lead researcher Professor Rebecca Fitzgerald, from the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute, said the best way to improve survival rates was through early detection.

Around £500 was raised by friends and family towards Cancer Research UK following her death. Note: material may have been edited for length and content.

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