Global Health Asia-Pacific July 2022 | Page 52


Your breath may be key to speeding up cancer detection

The hope is that easier screening methods will improve early detection and survival
An ion flowtube mass spectrometer and managed to predict who had the disease eight times out of ten .

The many chemicals transported by the air inside our bodies contain essential information that could help doctors diagnose multiple diseases . Cancer patients , in particular , could benefit the most as improved and early diagnosis often translates into longer survival .

“ I ’ m very optimistic that we ’ ll see a cancer breath test in the clinic ” in the next 15 years or so , Dr Roger Yazbek , a breath testing researcher at Flinders University in Australia , told �lobal �ealth �sia��aci�c .
The key to unlocking this information is found in something called volatile organic compounds , chemicals released by both normal and pathological processes , like metabolism or tumour growth , that end up in the air and can be collected once breathed out . �esearchers want to see whether a specific profile associated with cancer can be identified with sufficient accuracy to distinguish those with the disease from healthy individuals .
In their study , Dr Yazbek and his team examined the breath of 50 patients with head and neck cancer along with that of 50 healthy people using a machine called an ion flow�tube mass spectrometer and managed to predict who had the disease eight times out of ten .
The hope is that the breath test will provide a non� invasive and easy�to�administer approach to head and neck cancer screening , currently a long process that often leads to delayed diagnosis as it ’ s done through a biopsy that collects cells from potential tumour sites to test them in the lab .
“ People who are at risk of head and neck cancers could have their breath analysed and , if a cancer signal appears , they would go on for further testing ”, like a biopsy , so that only those who absolutely need such an invasive procedure would undergo it , explained Dr Yazbek .
Having a non�invasive screening tool that more people feel comfortable with would likely increase the ability to pick up head and neck cancers early , thus boosting a person ’ s chances of living longer . “ We know that with head and neck cancers , early diagnosis means improved outcomes for the patients and increased five�year survival rates , � he said .
While many head and neck cancers can be effectively treated in the early stages , the prognosis looks grimmer for patients diagnosed with late�stage malignancies . �or instance , the five�year survival rate of laryngeal cancer patients stands at 78 percent if it ’ s found before it spreads outside the larynx , while it drops to 34 percent when it ’ s reached distant parts of the body , according to Cancer . Net .
Though the study findings are good news for patients with head and neck cancers , they still need to be validated by larger trials to confirm that specific compounds in the breath can be read as a marker of the disease , acknowledged Dr Yazbek .
Dr Yazbek and his team are not alone , however , in promoting this testing approach . In a sign of its great potential , other researchers have reached similar conclusions with different malignancies .
An ion flow-tube mass spectrometer
50 JULY 2022 GlobalHealthAsiaPacific . com