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Breathalyzer-Like Test That Can Detect Several Types Of Cancer Cleared For Clinical Trials

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A device that can immediately detect certain types of cancer by analyzing breath samples has gone into clinical trials in the United Kingdom.

Called the Breath Biopsy, the new technology developed by the diagnostic company Owlstone promises to recognize molecules related to a range of cancer, allowing for early detection. If successful, the device will herald a new era of non-invasive cancer screening.

Device Detecting Cancer From Breath

According to the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Center, which is running the trial in collaboration with Owlstone Medical, the technology works by looking for odorous molecules called volatile organic compounds (VOC). When a person has cancer, the cells can release a different pattern of VOC that the researchers hope to identify with the Breath Biopsy.

To use the technology, the patient has to breath into it for 10 minutes.

"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," stated Rebecca Fitzgerald, the lead trial investigator from the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Center. "Owlstone Medical's Breath Biopsy technology is the first to test across multiple cancer types, potentially paving the way for a universal breath test."

Clinical Trial

During the clinical trial, the researchers hope to collect samples from around 1,500 people to analyze patterns of VOC. They will begin to recruit people who have suspected esophageal, stomach, prostate, kidney, bladder, liver, and pancreatic cancer. They will also need healthy people to serve as a control group.

As the researchers will have collected the breath samples, the trial will determine whether the device can detect differences of VOC in participants who are healthy and those who have cancer. Results of the trial will not be published until 2021.

The Importance Of Early Detection

While there has been significant progress in the development of new therapies for different types of cancer, early detection is still the key to surviving the disease. However, a previous study found that in England, almost half of all cancer cases were diagnosed at a late stage and, therefore, more difficult to defeat.

"By 2030, the number of new cancer cases per year is expected to rise to around 22 million globally," said Richard Gilbertson of the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Center. "Non-invasive detection of cancer in breath could make a real difference to survival."

In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that the number of new cases of cancer is expected to rise to 2 million a year. More than 500,000 people have already died of the disease across the country as of 2016.

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