Breath Test for Detecting Breast Cancer
Early breast cancer detection can significantly improve survival rates. However, current diagnostic tests expose women to the potentially harmful effects of radiation, and often fail to detect cancer in the earliest stages.
A team of researchers from Georgia Tech, Emory University, and the University of Ulm in Germany are using a portable, non-invasive device to determine which biomarker gases exhaled in a person’s breath indicate the presence of breast cancer.
“Scientists know that it’s possible to detect different chemical compounds from a person’s breath and relate them to illness,” said Charlene Bayer, principal research scientist at the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI). “Yet, they haven’t been able to quantify results such as determining a patient has a tumor because he or she has X amount of Y compounds in his or her breath.”
Breath biomarkers are volatile organic compounds originating in the lower lungs. Certain compounds are related to oxidative stress, the body’s response to inflammation, and are often an indication of disease.
As a patient breathes into the device, these compounds are trapped and examined by a sensor. The researchers’ sensing methodology combines gas chromatography — a technique for separating complex compounds — with mass spectrometry, which identifies the chemical makeup of a substance. Specific patterns in the compounds are then found and used to confirm the presence or absence of the disease.
The team recently conducted a clinical study analyzing more than 300 volatile organic compounds in breath samples of 20 healthy women over the age of 40, and 20 women recently diagnosed with stage II-IV breast cancer who had not received treatment. The results showed that the breath analysis was able to determine whether the sample came from a cancer patient or healthy subject 78% of the time.
The researchers are currently adding to their clinical database of breath data and trying to determine which compounds are most important for detecting breast cancer. That could help reduce the number of compounds tested.
Because it can offer immediate results in a physician’s office, the device could help increase early detection among those who do not have the resources for a mammogram, more easily conduct interval testing for those with a genetically high risk for breast cancer, and facilitate recurrence testing after breast cancer treatment.
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