Researchers at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Center are currently recruiting the first participants for a new clinical trial to develop a cancer breath test.

The breath test could aid in the early detection of multiple cancers and reduce the need for invasive diagnostic procedures like surgical biopsies.

How Cancer Breath Testing Works

Researchers are using Owlstone Medical’s Breath Biopsy® technology for the current trial. This technology measures volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the breath to detect the presence of disease in the body.

VOCs are produced by our cells as part of their normal operations. When a disease, like cancer, interferes with our cells, they release a different VOC pattern.

VOCs are released through the breath and can be used as an important indicator of what’s going on in the body. Even very early stages of cancer alter the VOCs in the breath.

Owlstone Medical’s ReCIVA Breath Sampler can collect VOCs from the breath to be analyzed later. In the current trial, researchers are hoping to identify the specific patterns of VOCs that are released when someone has cancer.

Though the breath test may not be able to diagnose a specific type of cancer, it may quickly indicate whether or not someone has cancer.

Cancer Breath Test Clinical Trial Details

The trial is taking place at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge where breath samples will be collected from 1,500 patients with suspected oesophageal, stomach, pancreatic, prostate, bladder, kidney, and liver cancer.

Researchers will also collect breath samples from a group of healthy participants.

After breath collection, patients will be given other diagnostic tests. Researchers will compare the breath samples of people who end up developing cancer with those who don’t to determine which VOC signals in the breath could indicate a presence of cancer. The trial is expected to run into 2021.

It’s important to note that the current trial is not testing the efficacy of cancer breath-testing. Instead, it’s identifying the markers in the breath that could signal cancer in the body so doctors can know what to look for.

According to researchers, this is a crucial step in developing the technology for a universal cancer breath test.

How Breath Testing Could Benefit Patients

If the breath testing technology proves to be an accurate method of screening for cancer, doctors could use this in routine checkups before referring patients for further diagnostic testing.

Breath Testing Is Less Invasive Than Other Cancer Detection Methods

Breath testing is non-invasive. It does not require patients to undergo procedures where instruments are introduced into the body.

This means breath testing could be extremely beneficial for people who are at high risk of developing certain cancers — these people often require routine invasive monitoring procedures, such as biopsies and endoscopies.

Current cancer tests put patients through discomfort and trauma even though many never develop the disease. Though biopsies play an important role in cancer detection, they expose patients to pain and possible health complications.

Breath testing would reduce the need for biopsies to monitor at-risk patients and test where cancer is suspected. The technology could help doctors rule out cancer and avoid causing harm to patients who don’t need invasive tests.

Cancer Breath Testing Could Improve Early Detection for Several Cancers

In England, almost 50% of cancers are detected at a late stage. Early detection is often the key to survival, especially for more lethal cancers like esophageal and pancreatic cancer. Breath testing could vastly improve early detection and give people a better chance at survival.

Owlstone Medical’s breath technology is the first that can identify signals for multiple types of cancer.

This type of technology may also be beneficial for early mesothelioma detection. This asbestos-related cancer is rare and difficult to detect in its early stages. Unfortunately, this means doctors often misdiagnose the disease as another condition and delay necessary treatment.

With breath testing technology, people at high risk of developing mesothelioma could be monitored on a regular basis and treated quickly to improve health outcomes.

The hope is that a future universal cancer breath test could find its way into doctor’s offices around the world.

By using the non-invasive cancer-screening technology, we could see much higher survival rates for cancers that are difficult to detect in their early stages.

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Laura WrightWritten by:

Lead Editor

Laura Wright is a journalist and content strategist with more than 15 years of professional experience. She attended college at the University of Florida, graduating magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in journalism in 2008. Her writing has been featured in The Gainesville Sun and other regional publications throughout Florida.

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  1. “Clinical trial launches to develop breath test for multiple cancers”. Cancer Research UK Cambridge Centre. Retrieved from: Accessed on January 16, 2019.

  2. “Current Challenges in Volatile Organic Compounds Analysis as Potential Biomarkers of Cancer”. Journal of Biomarkers. Retrieved from: Accessed on January 16, 2019.

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