Skin Cancer 'Smells,' Can Help Early Detection

Armen Hareyan's picture

Researchers have found that skin cancer has its own 'odor profile', which is easy to differ from a healthy skin profile.

The finding comes from Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia and will open doors for a new noninvasive way of diagnosing skin cancer quickly, easily, painlessly. The only approved way for diagnosis of skin cancer is biopsy coming after a visual exam, which is invasive also.


Researchers examined the air surrounding arm areas of 25 healthy volunteers and 11 patients with basal cell carcinoma. They analysed the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) extracted from skin and 'flying around' in the air. Researchers found that VOCs of healthy and infected skins are entirely different and are clearly describing skin condition.

Scientists now plan to clarify 'odor profile' for skin cancer and create a device sensitive to scents. The device is supposed to analyse the air around skin and give detailed information on skin condition. This innovative diagnostic tool will be very important for both doctors and patients to detect early skin cancer symptoms.

"This work is preliminary," said Gallagher. "But I think within a few years, it's reasonable to say that this could end up being a diagnostic tool that would be a routine thing one could do in a doctor's office. It's a real possibility."

There is one more similar research training dogs to find skin cancer patients based on the way they smell. Another study conducted earlier this year was able to diagnose lung cancer based on breath sensor reaction. However, this is the first of its kind study looking at the chemical nature of skin cancer scent.