A cheap and simple breath test may soon be all that is needed to detect the early signs of lung cancer. The breath analysis would distinguish between an early-stage form of cancer versus a benign lung disease, whose early symptoms include changes in breathing, a different type of cough than usual, and constant wheezing.
The development of the breath test was from the School of Medicine at the University of Louisville, with results presented at the 2014 conference of the American Association for Thoracic Surgery (AATS).
The new test uses positron emission tomography (PET), an already existing technology. However, this test uses twice the normal strength, allowing for optimal sensitivity in order to detect disease. The new scans work by creating three-dimensional images of the inside of a person’s body that show how advanced the lung cancer is, and whether or not the person is responding to treatment of the disease.
Doctors say the breath analysis can potentially provide a more cost-effective, yet reliable, diagnostic option for patients. There are a number of factors that go into the breath analysis new technology when it comes to detecting either early stage or lung cancer of benign disease. Research in the past has indicated four certain substances exist that are known to scientists and researchers as carbonyl compounds. In breath tests they are recognized as elevated cancer markers (ECMs), which help to distinguish between benign lung disease and lung cancer.
Breath analysis and PET scanning have been shown to have similar sensitivities in differentiating between benign pulmonary disease and early stage cancer. But breath analysis has a much higher specificity than PET for picking up benign disease, meaning it is much more effective at identifying those who do not have cancer. This would be important for people having benign diseases, since the breath analysis might mean avoiding unnecessary biopsy procedures later.
A positive breath analysis result, say researchers, would most likely be followed by a biopsy. A negative breath analysis result, on the other hand, would likely simply be followed in repeat exams to confirm the result, and not with a biopsy. Researchers investigating and testing the new breath test technology found that the specificity and sensitivity of its analysis depended upon the increase of ECMs. Those who had three to four ECMs were the ones who were diagnosed with cancer (in 95 percent of cases). Extensive testing was done in this field to determine how accurate this was.
Early detection of lung cancer allowed by the simple breath test may save lives by accelerating the start of cancer treatment. The new technology should also be less of a physical and financial burden than would the normal body scans usually done to detect illnesses. Doctors say that the breath test would probably not replace scans altogether, as these are often necessary to confirm results. However, the new technology would pair nicely with a positive scan result to confirm a diagnosis, even if the breath test did not take the place of a scan.
By Laura Clark