Breath Test Breakthrough for Early Diagnosis of Oesophageal And Gastric Cancer


Source: Imperial College London

Summary: Researchers say that a breath test can successfully detect oesophageal and gastric cancer and could be used as a first-line test for patients.


There are more than 15,000 new cases of gastric and oesophageal cancers in the UK and those cancers account for 15% cancer-related deaths globally. Both cancers are usually diagnosed in the advanced stages as symptoms only become noticeable once the disease develops. As a result, the long-term survival rate is about 15% in the UK. Detection of oesophageal and gastric cancers at an early stage can improve survival rates. Doctors diagnose oesophageal and gastric cancers by carrying out an endoscopy. However, the procedure is invasive and only 2% of patients who are referred for an endoscopy are diagnosed with oesophageal or gastric cancer. Researchers from the Imperial College London say that a breath test can successfully detect oesophageal and gastric cancer and could be used as a first-line test for patients. The study findings were published in the journal JAMA oncology.

Test through breath for early diagnosis of gastric and oesophageal cancers

Credit: Imperial College London

In a multi-center clinical trial of 335 patients, the breath test can identify cancer from benign diseases with 85% accuracy. Unlike other methods, the test is non-invasive. They hope that this test can be used to help clinicians decide whether patients need further investigations. The test looks for chemical compounds in exhaled breath that are unique to patients with oesophageal and gastric cancer. The cancers produce a distinctive smell of volatile organic compounds (VOC), chemicals that contain carbon and are found in all living things, which can help doctors detect early signs of the disease. The team believes that in future clinicians would order a breath test in the same way as routine blood tests. They are undertaking further investigations to improve the test and will conduct a larger clinical trial to validate the results.

Prof. George Hanna said, “We have been able to validate our cancer breath test for oesophageal and gastric cancer on a larger group of patients from multiple centres for the first time. Gastric and oesophageal cancers are mostly diagnosed a late stage when curative treatment might not be possible. There is a real need for early detection of cancer when symptoms are non-specific and shared by benign diseases. Our breath test could be used as a first-line test before invasive investigations. Early detection of cancer gives patients more treatment options and save more lives.”


More Information: Sheraz R. Markar et al, “Assessment of a Noninvasive Exhaled Breath Test for the Diagnosis of Oesophagogastric Cancer”, JAMA Oncology (2018). DOI: 10.1001/jamaoncol.2018.0991


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