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Lung Cancer Health Center

Breath Test May Spot Lung Cancer

Researchers report test could also differentiate early and late stages of the disease
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Researchers for years have been investigating ways to detect lung cancer from a person's breath. For example, a 2011 study reported that dogs had been trained to reliably sniff out lung cancer in human breath.

Recent advances in technology have allowed scientists to create devices that can detect these particles down to one part per trillion, vastly improving the ability to create detailed cancer scent signatures, Peled said.

The new study involved 358 people located in the United States and Israel. Of those, 213 had lung cancer and of those, 143 had advanced-stage cancer. Another 145 did not have lung cancer.

Doctors had the patients blow into a balloon, which was then attached to a very sensitive gold nanoparticle sensor. Technion Institute, a laboratory in Haifa, Israel, then analyzed the particles in the sensor trap for volatile organic compounds that are evidence of lung cancer.

The device and subsequent analysis accurately sorted healthy people from people with early-stage lung cancer 85 percent of the time, and healthy people from those with advanced lung cancer 82 percent of the time, researchers said.

The test also accurately distinguished between early and advanced lung cancer 79 percent of the time.

The device could prove valuable in helping determine patients who need more intensive screening for lung cancer, Patel and Peled said.

"We're hoping to have a device that would be able to give you a go/no go result -- hey buddy, something's wrong, go get an X-ray," Peled said.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has recommended that older smokers at high risk for lung cancer receive annual low-dose CT scans, but an advisory panel for the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has recommended against Medicare picking up the tab for those tests.

The estimated cost to Medicare for CT lung cancer screening and subsequent treatment is $9.3 billion over five years, according to another study presented at ASCO over the weekend.

Critics also point out that the CT scans produce a large number of false positives, usually by detecting noncancerous lung nodules.

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