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Bowel cancer diagnosed with a simple breath test

Published on 05/12/2012

A test has been developed by scientists that can diagnose bowel cancer just from analysing a patient’s breath.

The new breath test is similar to a breathalyser

Cancerous tumours are known to produce “volatile organic compounds” which are unlikely to be found in a healthy person. These combinations of chemicals can be found in a small amount in the breath of a cancer patient.

Now, a team of scientists from a hospital in Bari in Southern Italy have developed an electronic breath-test which identifies these exhaled chemicals, similar to the one used to determine when a driver has had too much to drink.

Writing in the British Journal of Surgery, researchers compared the breath of 37 patients known to have bowel cancer with that of 41 healthy participants.

The initial test identified the cancer patients with 85% accuracy, but the results fell to 76% when combined with a follow-up test. The scientists said:

"The present findings further support the value of breath-testing as a screening tool."

In England, bowel cancer is the third most common type of cancer. In 2009, there were 41,142 new cases of bowel cancer registered in the UK.

Current screening for bowel cancer looks for signs of faeces in the blood. However, because only a small proportion of those who test positive actually have the disease, it can lead to unnecessary and invasive testing.

Scientists say that larger studies are now needed to fine-tune the test and confirm it works. They are also working on breath tests for other diseases, including several types of cancer, diabetes and TB.

Dr Claire Turner, a lecturer in analytical chemistry at the Open University, said: "These technologies show a great deal of promise, and hopefully we will see larger studies in the future.

"However, we are unlikely to see this kind of breath testing available widely in the short term."

If the breath test proves successful in further studies then it may be awarded a European license and available for private prescription. Once it has been licensed, patients with private health insurance could have access to it on their policy.

© ActiveQuote Ltd. 2012

Categories:  Medical
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