Imagine if you could get tested for cancer with simply a breath. Researchers at Flinders University in Australia are working to make this a reality. Although this concept is not new, this study represents a significant development within the field. The Australian researchers are developing a device that analyzes and tests breath for signs of head and neck cancer. Globally, head and neck cancers comprise 6% of all cancers and are responsible 300,00 annual deaths.
The test uses something called a mass spectrometer to analyze the chemicals within a person’s breath. The idea is that cancers release chemicals not made by normal cells. These can then end up in the breath of patients.
Researchers analyzed 181 breath samples from patients suspected of having head and neck cancers. They found that the test is good at finding cancer and does not mistakenly flag healthy people as having cancer. It was able to find about 85% of cancers. The diagnoses made by the spectrometer was confirmed by analysis of tissue samples.
Overall, the breath analysis was determined to be efficient, accurate, and able to provide early screening for head and neck cancer. Furthermore, the analysis itself was inexpensive and rapid. The researchers hope to test this method in primary care clinics.