A clinical trial has just launched to assess the effectiveness of a newly developed breath test that could help diagnose multiple forms of cancer.

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A new breath test currently under trial could help diagnose multiple forms of cancer at an early stage.

Researchers from the Cancer Research United Kingdom Cambridge Institute have recently developed an innovative breath test.

They say that it will assist in the diagnosis of several types of cancer.

The new noninvasive test, created with the support of Owlstone Medical, screens for the presence of volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

These are signature molecules in a person’s breath that could help identify cancer at any stage.

This approach could help identify the presence of cancer early on, thus allowing people to access treatment immediately and enhancing the probability of positive health outcomes.

The new breath test, called Owlstone Medical’s Breath Biopsy, is being assessed in a clinical trial called the PAN Cancer Trial for Early Detection of Cancer in Breath.

According to lead investigator Prof. Rebecca Fitzgerald, “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,” she adds.

“Owlstone Medical’s Breath Biopsy technology is the first to test across multiple cancer types, potentially paving the way for a universal breath test,” explains Prof. Fitzgerald.

The authors explain that, during their natural processes, cells release a range of VOCs — but if they undergo mutations, this will alter the kinds of molecules they produce.

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Clinical trials assessing Owlstone Medical’s Breath Biopsy are currently under way.
Image credit: Owlstone Medical Ltd, 2019

Owlstone Medical’s Breath Biopsy is aiming to detect the VOC changes that indicate the presence of different types of cancer.

In the clinical trial, the investigators are looking to collect and analyze samples from around 1,500 participants.

These include both those potentially living with cancer and healthy controls.

To begin with, the researchers will work with people with suspected cancer of the stomach and esophagus. They will later collect samples from people who may have prostate cancer, kidney cancer, bladder cancer, liver cancer, or pancreatic cancer.

For this trial, the investigators are recruiting people at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge to be tested for one of these forms of cancer.

The participants will receive the innovative breath test first, and then they will undergo traditional diagnostic methods. This will allow the researchers to confirm the accuracy and effectiveness of Owlstone Medical’s Breath Biopsy.

“There is increasing potential for breath-based tests to aid diagnosis, sitting alongside blood and urine tests in an effort to help doctors detect and treat disease,” says Billy Boyle, co-founder and CEO at Owlstone Medical.

The concept of providing a whole-body snapshot in a completely noninvasive way is very powerful and could reduce harm by sparing patients from more invasive tests that they don’t need.”

Billy Boyle

So far, those who have registered for this trial seem to have had no difficulty while undergoing this new test.

Rebecca Coldrick, a 54-year-old woman participating in the trial, has Barrett’s esophagus. This is a condition in which cells lining the oesophagus have undergone mutations.

Barrett’s esophagus places her at a higher risk of developing a form of cancer called esophageal adenocarcinoma, so she needs to keep on screening for developments.

“Every 2 years I have an endoscopy to monitor my condition,” explains Coldrick. She chose to join the PAN trial, and she notes that her experience with the new breath test was a positive one.

“Initially,” she says, “I thought I might feel a bit claustrophobic wearing the mask, but I didn’t at all. I found watching the display on the computer during the test interesting and soon we were done, without any discomfort.”

“I think the more research done to monitor conditions like mine and the kinder the detection tests developed, the better,” Coldrick adds.

The Cancer Research UK investigators are very hopeful about this clinical trial and believe that the new technology will improve diagnostic processes.

“Technologies such as this breath test have the potential to revolutionize the way we detect and diagnose cancer in the future,” emphasizes Dr. David Crosby, head of early detection research at Cancer Research UK.