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Breath Test Can Detect and Differentiate Lung Cancer


The time has come when lung cancer can be detected by analyzing the breath. Metabolomx, a diagnostic company in Mountain View, California, recently reported the results of the first clinical study showing that a breath test can detect lung cancer as well as differentiate between types of lung cancer.

The lung cancer breath test is better than 80% accurate

Lung cancer is the number one cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States, and this is true for both men and women. Approximately 221,130 new cases of lung cancer will be diagnosed in the United States in 2011, and about 156,940 people will succumb to the disease.

The two main types of lung cancer are small cell lung cancer, which accounts for about 20% of cases; and non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), which makes up about 80%. Among the different types of NSCLC are squamous cell, adenocarcinoma, bronchioalveolar, and large-cell undifferentiated carcinoma.

The Metabolomx breath test, a first-generation colorimetric sensor array, was tested under the direction of Dr. Peter Mazzone at the Cleveland Clinic. It works by detecting the pattern of volatile organic compounds found in exhaled breath, providing clinicians with a type of “metabolic biosignature” that reflects active tumor metabolism.

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The study involved breath samples taken from 229 individuals: 137 who were at risk for developing lung cancer or who had indeterminate lung nodules and 92 who had untreated lung cancer proven with a biopsy. Mazzone and his team found that the breath test had about an 81% accuracy rate for detection of lung cancer regardless of type.

The breath test was able to discriminate between patients with adenocarcinoma, squamous cell, and small cell lung cancer with an accuracy of approximately 83%, 85%, and 89%, respectively, when compared with controls. It also allowed clinicians to differentiate between stage I/II and stage III/IV with approximately 79% accuracy.

Development of this new breath test for lung cancer is important for several reasons. Paul Rhodes, PhD, founder and CEO of Metabolomx noted that “Detection of the metabolomic signature of lung cancer in exhaled breath is non-invasive, rapid, and inexpensive, and will become a valuable adjunct to help assess an indeterminate CT, and may come to have a central role in early detection and differentiation of lung cancer, while lowering costs to the healthcare system.”

While this study represents the results of the first-generation breath test for lung cancer, Metabolomx has already started trials of its next-generation system at Cleveland Clinic. Compared with the first test, the Company expects the next generation to be more than 100 times more sensitive at detection of chemicals in exhaled breath.

National Cancer Institute