Breath test could detect cancer

Could this technology detect bowel cancer early by “sniffing” your breath?

A diagnostic group in the UK has begun a 1,400 patient clinical trial to test the potential of technologies known as eNose and FAIMS (Field Asymmetric Ion Mobility Spectrometer) in the early detection of colorectal cancer.

The trial will assess the accuracy of the non-invasive test in diagnosing colorectal cancer at an early stage, with the aim of improving survival rates of bowel cancer, which is the second most common cancer killer in Australia.

Previous research has been promising but as this may be the largest trial of its kind it may help make the case for a less invasive test to improve participation rates for screening.

Although there is a screening program for bowel cancer in Australia, a faecal test is off-putting for some patients. The faecal test does not diagnose cancer but looks for blood in the stool which then requires further investigation.

Similarly the breath test would not confirm a cancer diagnosis but detects exhaled compounds in the breath that are linked to cancer and require follow up.

The trial is being run in collaboration with the University of Warwick and the University Hospital Coventry. A smaller pilot study that showed sensitivity of 88 percent in detecting Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) biomarkers for the disease.

The pilot also showed sensitivity of 62 percent for detection of advanced adenomas, a pre-cancerous stage of colorectal cancer, representing a substantial increase in the rate of detection when compared to the faecal tests.