| 24.9°C Dublin

Breath test may detect cancers

An "electronic nose" has been developed that can sniff out cancer in patients' breath.

The device can distinguish between people with the disease and healthy individuals.

Scientists believe it may be especially useful for identifying patients with head and neck cancers, which are often diagnosed late.

The Israeli researchers collected breath samples from 82 people who either had head and neck cancer, lung cancer, or were cancer-free.

The Nano Artificial NOSE (NA-NOSE) device was able to tell apart breath molecules from head and neck cancer patients and healthy individuals.

It also distinguished between lung cancer patients and healthy participants, and between head and neck cancer and lung cancer patients.

Lead researcher Professor Hossam Haick, from the Technion -- Israel Institute of Technology, said: "There's an urgent need to develop new ways to detect head and neck cancer because diagnosis of the disease is complicated, requiring specialist examinations. We've shown that a simple 'breath test' can spot the patterns of molecules which are found in head and neck patients in a small, early study.

"We now need to test these results in larger studies to find if this could lead to a potential screening method for the disease."

The study is published in the Journal of Cancer Research, owned by Cancer Research UK.

Dr Lesley Walker, the charity's head of cancer information, said: "These interesting initial results show promise for the development of a breath test to detect head and neck cancers which are often diagnosed at an advanced stage.

"But it's important to be clear that this is a small study, at a very early stage, so many more years of research with patients will be needed to see if a breath test could be used in the clinic."

Head and neck cancer in disease includes a range of tumour types occurring in the tissues and organs in the head and neck, for example salivary glands and mucus membranes.