Scientists investigate breath tests for lung cancer detection

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, lung cancer has the highest fatality rate and is the third most common cancer in the United States.

The late diagnosis of lung cancer typically leads to limited treatment options, ultimately contributing to the disease’s high mortality rate.

Researchers from the University of Louisville recently completed a study published in the journal PLOS One, demonstrating a newly developed lung cancer detection test that may determine which Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are more likely to be present in lung cancer patients.

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How is cancer identified today?
Currently, CT scans are used to detect lung cancer and are offered to those at high risk.

A significant amount of research is being conducted on the early identification of cancer, from epigenetic testing, which can determine whether a person has ovarian, breast, or cervical cancer based on cervical smear samples, to the GRAIL study, which published some of its findings from its attempt to develop a blood test that can detect cancer and determine where it is located in the body.

Researchers believe early detection will save lives and money when more treatment options become available.

Possibility of using VOC
The possibility of using VOC measurements to detect lung cancer is another area that has sparked an interest.

According to Dr. Mike Davies of the University of Liverpool, who studies lung cancer and collaborates closely with the lung cancer foundation Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, volatile chemicals found in exhaled air are not always caused by lung cancer tumors because chemicals from all over the body are transported to the lungs by blood.

“Chemicals secreted by any region of the body, including illnesses and tumors, circulate throughout the circulatory system,” he was cited as saying by Medical News Today.

“When they reach the lungs, […] they will be expelled by the breath. “An example of this is ketones, which are generated in the bloodstream and then exhaled by diabetics,” he continued.

The obstacles

Prof. Robert Rintoul, professor of thoracic oncology at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom, spoke with MNT about the difficulties in diagnosing and treating lung cancer.

“Unfortunately, the vast majority [of lung cancer patients] succumb to their disease. This is because around three-quarters (75%) of lung cancer patients present with advanced illness.

Current research 

In the current study, scientists developed a method to record the exhaled breath of 414 individuals. One hundred ninety-three healthy control subjects were chosen from the families of lung cancer patients; 156 had untreated lung cancer, and 65 had benign lung lesions.

The majority of lung cancer patients were active or former smokers. Eighty percent of the controls had never smoked, whereas 113 were either current or former smokers. The group with lung cancer was significantly older than the healthy control group.

The researchers used machine learning to determine whether the VOCs found in cancer patients were related to their disease using exhaled air samples gathered using a newly developed method to detect the various VOC types.

According to the PLOS One study, this led to the finding of a cluster of seven VOCs that, when detected together, indicated the existence of lung cancer.