Breath-Test to Diagnose Colorectal Cancer

New research has demonstrated for the first time that a simple breath analysis could be used for colorectal cancer screening.

The metabolism of cancer tissue differs from normal healthy cells and produces specific substances that can be detected in the breath. These substances are referred to as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and analysing the way in which they are linked to cancer offers a new method of screening for cancer.

Researchers from the Department of Emergency and Organ Transplantation at the University Aldo Moro in Bari collected exhaled breath samples from 37 patients with colorectal cancer and 41 healthy individuals acting as controls. These samples were processed offline to evaluate the VOC profile. VOCs of interest had been identified and selected, and VOC patterns able to discriminate patients from controls set up.

The results showed that patients with colorectal cancer have a different selective VOC pattern compared with healthy controls, based on analysis of 15 of 58 specific compounds in exhaled breath samples. The methodology was able to discriminate patients with colorectal cancer with an accuracy of over 75%, with the model correctly assigning 19 patients.

The research was led by Dr Donato F. Altomare who commented: "The technique of breath sampling is very easy and non-invasive, although the method is still in the early phase of development. Our study's findings provide further support for the value of breath testing as a screening tool."

The study was published in the British Journal of Surgery (BJS)

Abnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. Full medical glossary
The basic unit of all living organisms. Full medical glossary
The chemical reactions necessary to sustain life. Full medical glossary
Any test or technique that does not involve penetration of the skin. The term 'non-invasive' may also describe tumours that do not invade surrounding tissues. Full medical glossary
Relating to the rectum, the lowest part of the bowel leading to the anus. Full medical glossary
A way to identify people who may have a certain condition, among a group of people who may or may not seem to Full medical glossary
A group of cells with a similar structure and a specialised function. Full medical glossary