Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Breathalyzer Used to Detect Lung Cancer

Lung Cancer is one of the world’s largest killers.  As of 2012, lung cancer has caused 1.56 million deaths on average per year.  Typically lung cancer is thought to be a direct result of cigarette smoke, but people who do not smoke can get this cancer as well due to genetic factors and being exposed to gases.  lung cancer is also called carcinoma of the lung.  It develops when cells in the lung begin to multiply rapidly and out of control.  The main difference between lung cancer and other types of cancer is the area of the body in which it occurs.  Previously detection of lung cancer was found using chest radiographs and computed tomography.  Since people are not usually tested for lung cancer until they start exhibiting symptoms, lung cancers are usually not discovered until it is too late for a cure.  However, researchers now think that they have found a new way to detect lung cancer, a breathalyzer. 

The University of Huddersfield researchers think that this breathalyzer will be able to identify lung cancer much earlier in its stages which would lead to a better chance to be cured.  They think that this breathalyzer will be able to distinguish people who have bronchitis or just a simple cough from the people that have lung cancer much more accurately.  Lung cancer symptoms have very similar symptoms to the common cold such as coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath leading to many people getting misdiagnosed.  If this breathalyzer can distinguish between cancer and a common cold then this would be a huge step for the cancer world.  A study conducted by Georgia Tech found 75 different compounds in the breath of people with lung cancer versus the people without.  Another study tested on people with breast cancer found that the device was able to detect people with breast cancer 78 percent of the time.

Each time a patient breathes into the breathalyzer chemicals from their breath are captured by the sensor in the breathalyzer.  The breathalyzer then breaks down the complex compounds of the chemicals to analyze the chemical makeup of the substance.  It is able to break down the complex compounds by using gas chromatography with mass spectrometry.  By looking at the different patterns in the chemicals the breathalyzer is able to see if they are similar to the chemicals in a cancer positive person versus a healthy person.  This new breathalyzer is much less expensive and much easier to test than the previous detection techniques.  When cancer is detected at its earliest stage, stage I, it is curable 70% of the time compared to the 25% of the time when it is usually detected in stage III.  These results are obviously not perfect and ready to be relied on, but it is definitely a huge step forward.  Before these tests can be utilized as the primary detection for cancer they need to be performed in larger studies to get a better understanding if this device is actually working versus the results just being a fluke.

My research sources are as follows:


  1. I really enjoyed your post. I can see how using a breathalyzer can improve the likelihood of treatments being more successful. I wonder if it would still be difficult to do because like you mentioned, people do not get a check up unless they are showing symptoms. If they do not show symptoms, they can't be tested and they would be further into the stages. I was unaware that one could be misdiagnosed with a cold or bronchitis and have lung cancer instead. It also seems that it could be tricky for scientists to identify the molecules in a person's breath that are related to cancer. This would definitely be a good technique to have and hopefully becomes a reality.

  2. If this device can perform as planned it would be huge in the world of medicine and could save many lives by the early detection of lung cancer. This could be incorporated into your standard physical at all ages and help those who don't show any symptoms yet.

  3. This is really cool if they can use technology that we already have in a new way! Cancer detection and treatment are very expensive but being able to use technology like a breathalyzer would save patients a lot. It is also great that it is able to tell the difference between people with cancer and those that just have a cold and could help people from getting misdiagnosed. Thank you for sharing because this was very interesting!