Screening for cancer may soon be as easy as letting out a deep breath.
The PAN Cancer trial for Early Detection of Cancer in Breath is a collaborative effort between the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute and Owlstone Medical. The goal is to test Owlstone’s Breath Biopsy device and to create breath biopsy tests for early detection of a number of different kinds of cancer, Mother Nature Network reports.
"We urgently need to develop new tools, like this breath test, which could help to detect and diagnose cancer earlier, giving patients the best chance of surviving their disease," Rebecca Fitzgerald, the lead trial investigator at Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute, said in a statement.
This may sound like science fiction, but there's real science to back up the concept of a Breathalyzer-like device aimed at detecting cancer.
Normal biochemical reactions in cells release volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These compounds release odorous molecules that can be detected. If a cell's VOC pattern has been altered, that could indicate something is going on with the cell, like cancer. The Breath Biopsy detects these VOC biomarkers in a non-invasive way.
To test whether or not the Breath Biopsy is the VOC-detector of the future, Fitzgerald and her team will collect samples from 1,500 people who were referred to Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge due to cancer concerns. The clinical trial will start with patients with suspected esophageal and stomach cancers before expanding to prostate, kidney, bladder, liver and pancreatic cancers a few months later.
Trial participants will take the breath test before they undergo other diagnostic exams. They will breathe into the device for 10 minutes, and Owlstone Medical will analyze the results.