Irish scientists are hoping a revolutionary breath test will deliver the potential for the early diagnosis and eventual treatment of lung cancer. The disease presently accounts for one in five cancer deaths.
The breath sample analysis is being researched by Prof Bryan Hennessy from the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS).
It is hoped that it will offer doctors a faster, easier diagnosis tool for a cancer whose treatment rates are vastly more successful when the disease is caught in its early stages.
The five-year survival rate among lung cancer patients is just 15pc.
Breakthrough Cancer Research (BCR) is funding the project as one of two major cancer diagnosis trials.
BCR chief executive Orla Dolan said the studies offer exciting possibilities.
“Improved methods of detection of this disease and accurate identification of the underlying changes in the cancer cells could make treatment more successful,” said Ms Dolan.
“Accurate detection is essential to optimal treatment decisions.
“Therefore, research into improving lung cancer detection could greatly impact the survival rate for many patients.
“We are therefore delighted to green-light the funding for these two exciting new studies which have the potential to save many lives in the future.”
Under the project, researchers will analyse the breath of lung cancer survivors to detect genetic mutations that could predict the probability of a future recurrence of the disease.
Presently, the only way of predicting a recurrence of the disease is through invasive biopsies which cannot be performed frequently due to patient health risks. Blood sampling can be used but this is not fully reliable.
This new method of testing breath samples has outperformed blood-based testing to date and the study will investigate its capabilities for widespread diagnostic deployment.
The aim of the research is to complement the current blood-based detection approach to provide a better overall picture for doctors in assessing patients – and to help determine the best treatment options and outcomes for lung cancer patients.
This project is being jointly funded with the Health Research Board (HRB).
BCR is also funding a second study to measure genetic markers in blood linked to an aggressive form of small cell lung cancer (SCLC).
The project is being led by Dr Dearbhaile Collins, a Cork University Hospitality oncologist. SCLC makes up approximately 15pc of lung cancers diagnosed in Ireland.
Studies have shown that almost one in four patients with SCLC have a higher level of the cancer-causing gene MYC.
“This research will increase our understanding of the role of the MYC gene in small cell lung cancer,” Dr Collins said.
“It is hoped that this research will help to identify patients with different risks of cancer progression.
“This will help to determine the best treatment options for different patients and potentially identify new targeted treatment approaches for patients with small cell lung cancer.”
Lung cancer patient Debbie Whelan said early diagnosis is vital.
“The recurrence of cancer is the biggest fear factor for cancer survivors,” she said.