Breath Test for Lung Cancer?
Doctors May Someday Be Able to Determine Lung Cancer Risk by Breath DNA
WebMD News Archive
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
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
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,”
“Down the road, this could prove to be a real winner,” Weiner says. “Keep it
on your radar screen.”