Breathalyzer Test for Lung Cancer

Lung cancer presence and type can be detected with breath test

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) You're standing in the grocery store and breathe into a hand-held device. This machine tells you if you're at risk of lung cancer. Just such technology exists, though you may or may not see it at the grocery store.

A breath test has clinically demonstrated its ability to not only detect lung cancer but distinguish the type of lung cancer a person has. The machine is manufactured by Metabolomx and is known as a colorimetric sensor array.

"If you smoke, you're urged to get screened for lung cancer."

The Cleveland Clinic study reported accuracy of better than 80 percent in detecting the presence of lung cancer, which is comparable to the accuracy rates of computerized tomography (CT) scan. The technology also identified the subtype of lung cancer in nearly 90 percent of cases.

 "I actually think this test has important clinical promise," Fred R. Hirsch, M.D., Ph.D., professor of medicine and pathology at the University of Colorado Cancer Center, told dailyRx.

 "This technology has great potential because the metabolism of cancer patients is different from that of healthy individuals and the breath test can be used to detect this difference." Dr. Hirsch explained.

The colorimetric sensor array offers a low-cost, non-invasive way to obtain what's known as the metabolomic breath signature. Exhaled breath has a unique pattern of volatile organic compounds that the sensor detects.

Having the availability of such a test is particularly timely given the recent results of National Cancer Institute's National Lung Screening Trial (NLST), suggesting the need for greater CT screening of high-risk individuals. This test could be used in addition to CT screening.

For the study, breath samples were taken from 229 individuals, 92 of whom had lung cancer and 137 of whom were either at a risk for developing lung cancer or had suspicious lung nodules. The test was:

  • About 81 percent accurate in detecting the presence of lung cancer
  • Accuracy rates for discriminating subtypes:  83 percent adenocarcinoma; 85 percent squamous cell; 89 percent small cell
  • Had 79 percent accuracy in distinguishing Stage I/II from Stage III/IV

Lead investigator of the Cleveland Clinic study, Peter J. Mazzone, M.D., M.P.H., said, "Our research shows that breath testing may help identify patients with lung cancer, as well as provide us with information that can help with treatment decisions, such as the type of lung cancer, its stage, and prognosis."

Results from this study were published in December, 2011 online issue of the Journal of Thoracic Oncology, the official Journal of the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
December 21, 2011
Last Updated:
December 21, 2011