Lung cancer
Growth shown on the left side of the lungwiki commons

Scientists have developed a new technique that can help detect early stages of lung cancer, by analysing a person's exhaled breath.  

For the study, Michael Bousamra and colleagues from the University of Louisville in the US selected people with suspicious lung lesions. With the help of a specially designed device, consisting a silicone microprocessor and mass spectrometer, they measured levels of specific volatile organic compounds known as carbonyls, including aldehydes and ketones, in the exhaled breath of the people.

Results showed that 95 percent of the patients diagnosed with lung cancer had elevated levels of three or four such compounds in their breath. Normal levels of these compounds showed that the lesion was non-cancerous.  

"Although the data are preliminary, we found that patients with an elevation of three or four cancer-specific carbonyl compounds was predictive of lung cancer in 95% of patients with a pulmonary nodule or mass," Dr. Bousamra, said in a news release. "Conversely, the absence of elevated VOC levels was predictive of a benign mass in 80% of patients."

The findings are expected to help avoid undergoing invasive procedures unnecessarily. "Instead of sending patients for invasive biopsy procedures when a suspicious lung mass is identified, our study suggests that exhaled breath could identify which patients may be directed for an immediate intraoperative biopsy and resection," said Dr. Bousamra. "The novelty of this approach includes the simplicity of sample collection and ease for the patient."

Findings of the study were presented at the 50th Annual Meeting of The Society of Thoracic Surgeons, held in Orlando, USA.  

Detecting cancer using breath of a person has been a topic of interest lately. In November last year, a Portuguese designer named Susana Soares showed that trained honey bees can detect early stages of cancer from the patient's breath. For this purpose, the insects are placed in a big chamber of an equipment made of glass, and the patient is asked to exhale into an adjacent smaller chamber. On detecting cancer from the patient's odour, the bees will enter the small chamber.