Simple breath test could be key to earlier diagnosis of deadly cancers

A simple breath test could be the key to achieving earlier diagnosis of two deadly cancers. A trial of more than 300 patients demonstrated the test can identify stomach and oesophageal cancers with 85% accuracy by picking up on levels of acids and chemicals. Both types of cancer are often diagnosed late and have poor survival rates. Scientists hope detecting the cancers earlier will lead to more effective treatment and help save lives.

A breath test could be used as a non-invasive, first-line test to reduce the number of unnecessary endoscopies. In the longer term this could also mean earlier diagnosis and treatment, and better survival.

Dr Sheraz Markar, one of the researchers from Imperial College London

The test is also expected to reduce the need for unpleasant endoscopy examinations that require a flexible telescope to be inserted into the stomach via the throat. For the new study breath samples were collected from 335 patients at three London hospitals. Of these, 163 had been diagnosed with oesophageal or stomach cancer while 172 were shown to be cancer-free after undergoing endoscopy tests. In each breath sample, levels of butyric, pentanoic and hexanoic acids, and the chemicals butanal, and decanal were measured.