New test may help detect lung cancer in earlier stages

Breathing test helps detect lung cancer by the presence of volatile substances.

What can a single breathing test do for you? It could do much more after the development of a new device which can help detect lung cancer in its early stages. The study is being led by Dr. Salman Siddiqui and clinical trials are being conducted at the University of Leicester, England.

The research suggests this new Lung Cancer Indicator Detection (LuCID) will change the detection rate of early forms of the cancer from 14.5 per cent to 25 per cent of people, according to data from the United Kingdom. The idea is that this new device will detect volatile organic compounds from patients’ exhaled breath. Volatile organic compounds are compounds which have a high vapor pressure at room temperature. Some of these compounds are associated with cancers and in particular, doctors can detect which ones are common with lung cancer. This detection method is non-invasive, as patients simply blow into an apparatus.

Other detection methods can be very costly and not as effective. Currently, there are few ways of detecting lung cancer. In Canada and the United States, the Canadian Cancer Society suggests research is mainly going toward imaging techniques to help detect cancer early. One example is the National Lung Screening Trial, which takes low-dose spiral CT scans of patients. This method has been found to better detect lung cancer than the simpler X-ray scans. However, the problem still remains that for these methods to be effective, you must have fast access to these scans and also be able to recognize the potential for its use.

“Lung cancer has one of the lowest five-year survival rates of all cancers; however, early diagnosis can greatly improve a patient’s prognosis. Current diagnostic procedures such as chest X-rays, CT scans and bronchoscopy are costly and are not without risks so the benefits of a non-invasive, cheaper alternative are clear.” said Siddiqui.

The Canadian Cancer Society gives a list of classical symptoms associated with lung cancer in its early stages. One common symptom is a simple cough which does not go away over time. Unfortunately, a simple cough, even if you are a chronic smoker, does not warrant such a scan. The technology developed by Siddiqui may offer a chance for medical doctors to detect lung cancer at simple clinical visits, given a simple set of parameters.

Lung cancer arises from damage done to lung tissue. Tobacco smoking respresents the leading cause of all lung cancers diagnosed in Canada –  about 85 per cent. The remaining 15 per cent represents second-hand smoke, asbestos exposure, radon exposure and a range of other environmental – possibly genetic – factors. In Canada, lung cancer is the most diagnosed type of cancer. In 2014, 26,100 Canadians were diagnosed with lung cancer and 20,500 will die from it. With new technology such as the one developed by Siddiqui, perhaps these grim numbers might turn around. Early detection is key in defeating any cancer, and this study provides some hope that it will be accomplished for lung cancer.

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