A small new study suggests it might be possible to detect colorectal cancer in people just by examining their breath.
The findings, published in the British Journal of Surgery, show that the exhaled breath of people with cancer contains a different pattern of substances, called volatile organic compounds, than people without cancer.
"The technique of breath sampling is very easy and non-invasive, although the method is still in the early phase of development," study researcher Dr. Donato F. Altomare, M.D., of the University Aldo Moro of Bari, said in a statement. "Our study's findings provide further support for the value of breath testing as a screening tool."
The study included 37 people with colorectal cancer and 41 people without. Researchers had the study participants breathe out so that they could collect exhaled breath samples, and then evaluated these samples to determine the patterns of volatile organic compounds that might indicate cancer.
The researchers found that a pattern of 15 of these volatile organic compounds in particular was linked with colorectal cancer. They were able to determine with a greater than 75 percent accuracy which people had colorectal cancer and which people didn't.
Specifically, 19 of the people with colorectal cancer were correctly identified as having the disease from their breath samples.
Previously, there has been research done on breath tests for lung cancer. The Georgia Tech Research Institute presented research at the American Society of Clinical Oncology showing that there are 75 breath volatile organic compounds in exhaled breath that can help to differentiate people with lung cancer and people without.
And the MIT Technology Review reported on a California start-up, Metabolomx, which conducted a trial on its own breath test that could detect lung cancer.