Researchers at Chongqing University in China have created an ultra-sensitive device capable of detecting volatile organic compounds in people's breath that may indicate the presence of cancer.

The device is equipped with a sensor inside a small chamber that collects breath samples as a gas to analyze, measuring the levels of five organic compounds that are present in lung cancer.

Capable of detecting these gases at below 50 parts per billion (the equivalent of 50 pinches of salt in 10 tons of potato chips), Jin-can Lei, the primary researcher on the study, said, "Our results show that the device can discriminate different kinds and concentrations of cancer-related volatile organic compounds with a nearly 100 percent accurate rate."

Medical professionals see the device as an essential early detection method that could help blunt the deadly edge of lung cancer. While more people are diagnosed each year with breast and prostate cancer, lung cancer kills far more patients.

"According to Lei, a large number of studies have shown that some kinds of volatile organic compounds, originating from oxidation of unsaturated fatty acid in carcinogenesis, appear only in the exhaled air of people with lung cancer, raising the possibility that these compounds could be used as biomarkers to identify cancer."

While the devices still need to undergo controlled clinical trials, the initial laboratory results are promising, and the entire detection process should take only approximately 20 minutes. 

When it comes to lung cancer, smoking and exposure to asbestos are two primary causes. But even air pollutants can cause substantial damage, particularly in industrializing countries, like China, where air-pollution regulations remain weak. Mitchell L. Gaynor, M.D., professor of Medicine at Weill Medical College, explains the importance of taking a holistic approach to cancer prevention and detection.

"It's critically important for people to know that ... there's no difference between your internal environment inside your body and your external environment that we call the world. So all the toxins that are out there are gonna end up in here and so that’s why you wanna be very, very careful in every aspect of your life to minimize the toxins that you’re putting in your body."

 

Read more at Science Daily.