Skip to content

    Melanoma/Skin Cancer Health Center

    Font Size
    A
    A
    A

    Odor Test Sniffs Out Skin Cancer

    'Electronic Nose' Smells Skin Cancer's 'Odor Profile'
    By
    WebMD Health News
    Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

    Aug. 20, 2008 -- Dogs can sniff out a person with skin cancer -- and so might an "electronic nose," Monell Chemical Senses researchers say.

    Skin cancer has a distinct "odor profile," report Michelle Gallagher, PhD, George Preti, PhD, and colleagues.

    The skin gives off organic chemicals, many of which have a distinctive odor. Gallagher and colleagues sampled the air above patients' skin tumor sites and compared it to the air above similar skin sites from healthy people.

    The chemicals were the same, but tumors gave off different amounts than normal skin.

    "We're the first to identify and quantify the compounds involved in skin cancer odors," Gallagher says in a news release.

    The researchers hope their findings will allow them to use an electronic nose -- a nanosensor that can detect tiny quantities of volatile compounds -- to detect skin cancers. Gallagher says the device would work like the fictional "tricorder" in the Star Trek TV series, which would beep when waved over skin cancer.

    So far, the researchers have developed an odor profile only for basal cell carcinoma. They're working on profiles for the more serious squamous cell cancer and for melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.

    It would be a big advance. Currently, diagnosis of skin cancer requires an often-painful biopsy. And there's no way to detect these tumors until physical signs appear.

    Gallagher, now a senior scientist at Rohm and Haas in Philadelphia, reported the findings at the 236th annual meeting of the American Chemical Society, held Aug. 17-21 in Philadelphia.

    Today on WebMD

    Malignant melanoma
    About 40-50 percent of those who live to be 65 may get it. Here’s how to spot early.
    Woman checking out tan lines
    There’s a dark side to that strive for beauty. See them here.
     
    sauteed cherry tomatoes
    Fight cancer one plate at a time.
    Lung cancer xray
    See it in pictures, plus read the facts.
     
    12 Ways to Protect Your Skin from Melanoma
    ARTICLE
    precancerous lesions slideshow
    SLIDESHOW
     
    Do You Know Your Melanoma ABCs
    VIDEO
    15 Cancer Symptoms Men Ignore
    ARTICLE
     
    screening tests for men
    SLIDESHOW
    Vitamin D
    SLIDESHOW
     
    Is That Mole Skin Cancer
    VIDEO
    Brilliant sun rays
    Quiz