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Breath Test May Help Diagnose Colorectal Cancer

Researchers use simple breath sampling as screening tool (Dec. 5)

A new study in the British Journal of Surgery has demonstrated that a simple breath analysis could be used for colorectal cancer screening. The study is part of the journal’s “Improving Outcomes in Gastrointestinal Cancer” supplement.

Cancer tissue has a different metabolism compared with that of normal, healthy cells and produces substances that can be detected in the breath of cancer patients. Analysis of the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) linked to cancer is a new frontier in cancer screening.

Researchers at the University of Bari in Italy collected exhaled breath from 37 patients with colorectal cancer and from 41 healthy controls. The breath samples were processed to evaluate their VOC profiles.

The results showed that patients with colorectal cancer have a different VOC pattern compared with that of healthy controls, based on an analysis of 15 of 58 specific compounds in the exhaled breath samples.

The researchers were able to identify patients with colorectal cancer with an accuracy of greater than 75%.

“The technique of breath sampling is very easy and noninvasive, although the method is still in the early phase of development,” said lead investigator Donato F. Altomare, MD. “Our study’s findings provide further support for the value of breath testing as a screening tool.”

Source: Wiley; December 5, 2012.

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