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Apr 30, 2014 11:53 AM EDT

Breath Analysis May Be Able To Detect Early Lung Cancer

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A simple breath analysis may be able to detect early lung cancer, according to a recent study.

Researchers from the University Of Louisville School Of Medicine found that the noninvasive tool offers the sensitivity of PET scanning, and has almost twice the specificity of PET for distinguishing patients with benign lung disease from those with early stage cancer.

A reliable, noninvasive diagnostic method, such as the breath analyzer, will impose less physical and financial burden on patients who actually have no significant disease while rapid and accurate diagnosis expedites treatment for patients who truly have lung cancer, researchers said.

"This breath analysis method presents the potential for a cheaper and more reliable diagnostic option for patients found to have bulky disease on a CT scan. If the breath analysis is negative, the patient may, in some instances, be followed with repeated exams without necessitating a biopsy. But a positive breath analysis would indicate that the patient may proceed to definitive biopsy, thus expediting treatment," researcher Michael Bousamra II said in a statement.

For the study, researchers used specially coated silicon microchips to collect breath samples from 88 healthy controls, 107 patients with lung cancer, 40 individuals with benign pulmonary disease, and 7 with metastatic lung cancer. They then compared the findings from the breath analyses to the results from PET scans.

When it comes to differentiating early stage lung cancer from benign pulmonary disease, breath analysis and PET scanning had similar sensitivities (82.8% and 90.3%, respectively). However, researchers found breath analysis had a much higher specificity than PET (75% vs. 38.7%, respectively) for distinguishing benign disease, which means that it was much more accurate at identifying those who did not have cancer.

Researcher said this method could be an important feature for patients with benign disease, since having a breath analysis rather than PET scan could mean avoiding an unnecessary invasive biopsy procedure later on.

The findings were presented at the AATS 2014 Conference on April 29.

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