Breathalyser to detect cancer

Last Updated 14 June 2012, 04:06 IST

Scientists have developed a new cheap and simple breath analysing test which they say could accurately spot cancer indicators and help suggest whether a patient really needs further complex and expensive screenings.

Unveiled at the American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting in Chicago, this cancer-detecting breathalyser system, which is still awaiting clinical trials, is able to conduct pre-screening for both breast cancer and lung cancer.

Scientists at the Georgia Institute of Technology who developed the breathalyser said it could drastically reduce cancer screening costs and also the time and discomfort linked with CAT scans and mammograms.

“Most of the directions people are moving in are toward the more complex, the more expensive. I wanted something that’s rugged, cheap and easy enough to be done at a routine physical,” lead researcher Charlene Bayer was quoted as saying by LiveScience.

According to the researches, the breathalyser works by capturing the patient’s breath in a specially made container. Once in the container, the breath will stay fresh for up to a month and a half with proper refrigerated storage.

The breath container is then sent off to a lab where a chemical sensor searches for the organic compounds emitted by a body infected with cancer.

Since all a doctor needs to do is have a patient breathe into the container and then send it off to a lab, this test radically reduces the cost, time and patient discomfort linked with CAT scans and mammograms. This ease could alter the cancer diagnosis landscape in two important ways, Bayer said.

For most of the patients, the main problems with cancer screenings are cost and discomfort. This test could reduce the cost of a breast cancer test from USD 800 to less than USD 100, Bayer said. Additionally, the test would require none of the invasive physical discomfort associated with those tests, he added. According to Bayer, for patients in developing nations or countries with strict gender barriers, this test could open up even more opportunities to prevent cancer.

Not only it lowers the cost of screening to a point of affordability, but its rugged design means doctors operating in remote mountains or jungles could use the test, he said.

This test does not have the same accuracy as the other, more expensive tests, nor will it totally eliminate their use. Instead, it will help determine whether or not a patient needs further testing using the more expensive and intrusive devices, Bayer said.

(Published 13 June 2012, 17:35 IST)

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