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What are the benefits of exhaled breath for lung cancer diagnoses?

Instead of sending people for invasive biopsy procedures when a suspicious lung mass is identified, research suggests that exhaled breath could identify which people may require an immediate intraoperative biopsy and resection for further diagnosis.

Exhaled breath contains thousands of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that vary in composition and pattern depending on a person’s health status. A subset of four VOCs—called carbonyl compounds because of their carbon base—have been discovered in the exhaled breath of people with lung cancer. Being able to identify this lung cancer “signature” through a simple breath test has emerged as one of the most promising ways to diagnose the disease. Now the test is being used to monitor for disease recurrence.

Although the data are preliminary, researchers found that elevated carbonyl concentrations found in exhaled breath was predictive of lung cancer in 95 percent of people with a pulmonary nodule or mass.

Researchers analyzed breath samples collected before and after surgery from 31 people with lung cancer and compared their carbonyl VOC levels with samples from 187 healthy people. The researchers found a significant decrease in overall carbonyl VOC levels following surgery; in fact, three of the four carbonyl VOCs normalized after surgery, matching levels in the control group.

The rapid normalization of almost all of the four compounds after surgery provides strong evidence that they are directly produced by the tumor environment. The study confirmed that the technology is accurate.

The novelty of this approach includes the simplicity of sample collection and ease for the person with suspected lung cancer. To obtain FDA approval for the test as a screening tool for lung cancer, a very large multicenter trial of approximately 7,000 people needs to be done, to show that the breath test is as good a method of identifying lung cancer as CT scans are.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.