Of all cancers, lung cancer is the biggest killer in both men and women. According to the American Lung Association, it causes more deaths than colon, breast and prostate cancer combined. Diagnosing the disease can involve a number of tests, but scientists have discovered that specific compounds in exhaled breath may be used to diagnose the disease in its early stages.
Researchers from the University of Louisville presented their study at the 50th Annual Meeting of The Society of Thoracic Surgeons in Orlando, FL, this week.
Dr. Michael Bousamra and colleagues made the discovery when they were examining patients with "suspicious" lung lesions.
They say they used a silicone microprocessor and mass spectrometer to test exhaled breath of patients with suspected lung cancer for specific volatile organic compounds (VOCs) known as carbonyls.
These included aldehydes and ketones - organic compounds with carbon double-bonded to oxygen - which are at very low concentrations and produced by the human body.
Measuring levels of carbonyls in exhaled breath has provided researchers with a way to accurately identify early lung cancer.
After matching their findings with pathologic and clinical results, the team found that 95% of patients with a respiratory mass had an elevation of three or four cancer-specific carbonyl compounds.
Dr. Bousamra cautions that their "data are preliminary," but he also notes that the absence of these elevated VOC levels "was predictive of a benign mass in 80% of patients."
A novel approach
The team at the University of Louisville developed the silicone microprocessor, which was coated with an amino-oxy compound that binds to carbonyl compounds found in exhaled breath.
After removing malignant modules in certain patients, the team found that these elevated carbonyl concentrations returned to normal.
Dr. Bousamra talks about the potential for use of this technique as a standard test:
"Instead of sending patients for invasive biopsy procedures when a suspicious lung mass is identified, our study suggests that exhaled breath could identify which patients may be directed for an immediate intra-operative biopsy and resection."
"The novely of this approach includes the simplicity of sample collection and ease for the patients," he adds.
The US Preventive Services Task Force recently approved new lung cancer screening guidelines for older smokers, which recommend annual low-dose computed tomography (CT) lung screening.
Medical News Today also reported on a study that suggested measures to reduce smoking in the US have prevented around 8 million premature deaths.