Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Lung Cancer Health Center

Font Size

Breath Test for Lung Cancer?

Doctors May Someday Be Able to Determine Lung Cancer Risk by Breath DNA
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

April 16, 2007 (Los Angeles) -- Some day your doctor may be able to detect the earliest signs of lung cancer just by asking you to exhale -- long before any symptoms develop.

Using DNA recovered from exhaled breath, researchers say they can detect precancerous genetic changes in cells that line the lungs.

This could allow doctors to potentially detect lung cancer at an early stage, when treatment may be most successful, says Simon Spivack, MD, MPH, a research physician in the Human Toxicology & Molecular Epidemiology Laboratory at the New York State Department of Health’s Wadsworth Center in Albany.

The approach is innovative and creative, says Louis Weiner, MD, chairman of medical oncology at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia and moderator of a news conference at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research here.

Researchers have already shown that genetic patterns in sputum can help determine if a person is at high risk of lung cancer, he explains.

The problem is that most people don’t produce sputum until they are already sick, Weiner says.

“By using exhaled breath, we may someday be able to identify lung cancer early, when we can limit damage."

Cooled Breath Yields DNA

The work builds on previous research that showed that trace amounts of DNA could be extracted from cooled exhaled breath.

Using DNA captured from the breath of 33 people, the researchers showed that more tumor suppressor genes had been turned off in people with lung cancer than in those without cancer.

If there is something wrong with this gene, then it may not be able to protect against tumor growth. In fact, there were distinct genetic patterns in the never-smokers, former and current smokers, and those with lung cancer, Spivack tells WebMD.

The next step, he says, is to determine if the genetic patterns seen in DNA from the breath are the same as those in DNA from the lungs.

“People [with more tumor suppressor genes turned off] in their breath DNA may be at higher risk of lung cancer, although that remains to be proven,” Spivack says.

“Down the road, this could prove to be a real winner,” Weiner says. “Keep it on your radar screen.”

Today on WebMD

Broken cigarette
Do you know the myths from the facts?
man with a doctor
Our health check will steer you in the right direction.
sauteed cherry tomatoes
Fight cancer one plate at a time.
Lung cancer xray
See it in pictures, plus read the facts.
15 Cancer Symptoms Men Ignore
Lung Cancer Risks Myths and Facts
cancer fighting foods
Improving Lung Cancer Survival Targeted Therapy
Lung Cancer Surprising Differences Between Sexes
Pets Improve Your Health
Vitamin D
Lung Cancer Surgery Options