Kentucky researchers say that the breath analysis tool they’ve tested finds early lung cancer. Preliminary results suggest that this new test promises to deliver highly reliable results.
Scientists from the University of Louisville School of Medicine now use a test that is noninvasive and that creates less of a patient financial burden than conventional testing, according to Medical News Today. It helps expedite treatment for individuals who already have the disease. Michael Bousamra II, M.D., presented the findings at the annual meeting of the American Association for Thoracic Surgery.
The American Cancer Society estimates 224,210 new cases of lung cancer in 2014. About 116,000 will occur in men and 108,210, in women. The organization also estimates that lung cancer deaths will number 159,260, 72,330 in women and 86,930 in men. This represents around 27 percent of all deaths attributed to cancer. Every year, more patients die of this illness than of a combination of colon, breast, and prostate cancer.
The Louisville team expects CT scanning to remain the primary screening tool for lung cancer. While they don’t suggest that their breath test should substitute for it, they see it as particularly helpful after a positive CT result. Should the breath test be negative, some patients could undergo periodic exams but avoid a biopsy. A positive breath test result is an indicator that the individual should directly proceed to a biopsy, a step that could speed treatment.
The Kentucky study used 88 healthy control subjects, 107 known to have lung cancer, 40 with pulmonary disease classified as benign, and 7 individuals whose lung cancer had metastasized. Prior research had identified four substances, called carbonyl compounds, in breath samples that proved to be elevated cancer markers (ECMs) that differentiated patients with benign lung disease from those with cancer.
Carbonyl compounds are groups in organic chemistry made up of a carbon atom double-bonded to an oxygen atom, according to Elmhurst College. The researchers considered those in the breath evidence of chemical reactions that occur in cancerous lung tumors. They compared the results from the breath test to those from PET scans.
Results indicated that both the specificity and the sensitivity of the breath analysis depended on the number of elevated ECMs present. For 95 percent of analyses with three or four ECMs, the diagnosis was lung cancer. Most patients with benign lung diseases had one ECM, if any. Stage IV cancer patients typically had three or four.
For early-stage lung cancer, diagnosing a malignancy via the breath test had a sensitivity similar to that of a PET scan. However, for identifying patients who didn’t have cancer, the breath tool trounced the PET scan when it came to higher specificity, 75.0 percent compared to 38.7 percent. These results suggest the new tool could save the need for many invasive biopsies.
Vonda J. Sines has published thousands of print and online health and medical articles. She specializes in diseases and other conditions that affect the quality of life.