Could cancer be detected in the breath? Cancer Research UK launches major trial to find out


Cancer could soon be picked up through a simple breath test, after researchers launched a clinical trial to see if molecules in the mouth could identify disease. In tests run by Cancer Research UK, breath samples from 1,500 people will be collected in the hope that odorous molecules called volatile organic compounds (VOCs) can be detected. All cells produce VOCs through their normal day-to-day operation, but if their metabolism changes, such as in cancer, they release a different pattern. If the trial is successful, it would mean that cancer could be spotted quickly before it has spread, when it is easier to treat and when chances of survival are greatest. Professor Rebecca Fitzgerald, lead trial investigator at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Centre, said: “We urgently need to develop new tools, like this breath test, which could help to detect and diagnose cancer earlier, giving patients the best chance of surviving their disease. “Through this clinical trial we hope to find signatures in breath needed to detect cancers earlier – it’s the crucial next step in developing this technology.” The breath biopsy test has been developed by Cambridge based biotech firm Owlstone Medical and is the first that works for multiple cancer types, paving the way for a universal breath test which could be quickly administered by a GP. The trial will start with patients with suspected oesophageal and stomach cancers and then expand to prostate, kidney, bladder, liver and pancreatic cancers in the coming months.

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