A CLINICAL trial has begun on a breath test to detect certain cancers at an early stage.
The trail is being run by Cancer Research UK in collaboration with Owlstone Medical to test the new "breath biopsy" technology.
The researchers believe that the technology has "huge potential to provide a non-invasive look into what’s happening in the body and could help to find cancer early, when treatment is more likely to be effective".
In the trial, breath samples will be collected from 1,500 people to see if odorous molecules called volatile organic compounds (VOCs) can be detected. Cells produce a range of VOCs when carrying out biochemical reactions as part of their metabolism. When that metabolism becomes altered, such as in cancer and various other conditions, cells can release a different pattern of VOCs. The researchers aim to identify these patterns.
The clinical trial will start with patients with suspected oesophageal and stomach cancers and then expand to prostate, kidney, bladder, liver and pancreatic cancers in the coming months. Should the technology prove effective in accurately identifying these cancers, the team hope that breath biopsies could in future be used in GP practices to determine whether patients should be referred for further diagnostic tests.
Professor Rebecca Fitzgerald, lead trial investigator at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Centre, said: "We urgently need to develop new tools, like this breath test, which could help to detect and diagnose cancer earlier, giving patients the best chance of surviving their disease.
"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. Owlstone Medical’s Breath Biopsy technology is the first to test across multiple cancer types, potentially paving the way for a universal breath test."